Notes from ”The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance’ by Bruce Fink

These are my notes from ‘The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance’, by Bruce Fink, with supplementary notes where appropriate. Rather than keeping them for my eyes only, I thought I would share them, as I’m sure they’ll be useful. I’m aware there are spelling and grammatical mistakes from sloppy typing, but I will try and correct these if I have time in the coming weeks.

Part 1

A Slip of the Other’s Tongue]

1) Language and Otherness

Discourse is never one-dimensional. It can be partitioned into two parts, ego talk ( the everyday talk about our concious intentional selves; it is content based) and the Other’s talk (the unintentional parts of talk, the mumbled, garbled and blurted out, that seems not to be me that talks but some other agency). Talk comes from one of these places. The Other’s discourse is the unconscious. As Heidegger says, we re thrown beings-in-the-world of pre-existing socio-symbolic relations. A ready made world of language we absorb and regurgitate, ordered into relations by languages orientation towards the logos1 (that which gathers meaningful relations and maintains them). If the language we use is given to us by the Other, then the Other is language (l’Autre du language). The Other is all the words and expressions of a language (with all expanding and contracting that language use implies).

A child is born into a world which has already anticipated his or her birth coming into the symbolic order and will learn the language of the family. When a baby cries they do not know what they want, the parents interpret the cries to give them meaning and on satisfaction of the supposed need (i.e. the baby stops crying because they were given food, therefore , they were hungry) . The parents retroactively construct a picture of the baby’s needs and desires and give them meaning within the context of the ‘world’2 (in the Heideggerian sense) they are thrown into. The baby does not yet have language, but as they grow, they learn to develop language to balance their inarticulate needs (the cry) with socially symbolized articulatable resolutions. As Julia Kristeva3 understands, it is the baby’s interception and thrust into language that forever separates it from the Real (that which is impossible to symbolize). At this moment (the thetic break) the originary pleasure of the baby, absent of ego, before which mother-baby relations formed a ‘Khoratic’4 domain (unsybolizable zone of jouissance, excess, even painful pleasure, S1), is lost to an ever mediated response priority of the signifier. This is the human beings alienation in language, as language mediates what we want: we want and not want the same thing. We learn the mOther’s tongue.

[The Unconscious]

The self is an other, the ego is an other, but the most foreign of all is the unconscious, which itself is language (signifiers). “The unconscious is structured like a language” and so words which are repressed form linkages with other words, all unconscious to the subject. The unconscious may form linkages that are not contextually correct but have an unconscious logic, such as word plays and anagrams. Language obeys grammar: rules of transformation and slippage that link signifiers. Signifies link to a chain. Consciously, we talk in terms of language (the Other) and desires (fantasy), these are the Others fantasies in so far as they are chains of signifiers. Slips and problems articulating language shows when words and phrases interfere in the signifying chains. The unconscious records to memory all signifying chains, which can contain many disparate elements. When hearing certain words, images, sounds etc, the associations within signifying chains can be remembered. This often happens with negative effect, as is the case of the neurotic5. We internalize the foreign presence of language and become subjectivized by it, where we order ourselves and the world through its flow, or we feel so overwhelmed by it, its pressures and estrangements, that we kill ourselves.

Foreign Bodies

Our bodies are written with signifiers. The child is polymorphously perverse because he or she has not yet learnt to focus his libidinal energies into specific zones which become part of erotic adult discourse (oral, anal, and genital). The child’s body is the Real, not yet brought into the symbolic realm: a child’s body is one unbroken erogenous zone, no areas are prescribed as more or less pleasurable than the next. The child learns to recognise and prioritize these zones through socialization (the training of child by the parents and civil society). Verbal demands teach the child to regulate its oral (“don’t speak with your mouth full”), anal (“no sweets until you poop”), and genital (“if touch it it will fall off”) functions. The living body is killed by the signifier. It does not exist for itself but always in the service of the signifier. A famous example of this comes from Freud’s example of the ‘anal retentive’, who as a child held back his ‘gift’ of shit as an act of rebellion against the desires of his mother/father, and so developed an understanding of giving and receiving with greater conscious and suspicious scrutiny. Psychoanalysis developed initially from the thesis that hysterics could be talked into a cure (hysteria being the malfunction of body parts). By reworking the associations of symbolic chains, the patients could overcome their hysteria.

Sexual pleasure is tied to the Other, as a linguistic phenomenon. Sexual desires such as looks, body type, peripherals and props, outfits and role plays are linguistically structured. But the choice of fantasy is subjectively ours. Making people take responsibility for that is the toughest of tasks.

2) The nature of unconscious thought, or how the other half “thinks”

Speaking beings do not use language but are used by it. As Heidegger says, we are primordially within language. Language speaks. We try and choose our words, but much of the time we are stuck for words, or muddle up sentences, say the wrong thing or repeat things again and again. We only have at our disposal the words we have accumulated through our language, which as Wittgenstein says, “the limits of my language are the limits of my world”. As such, unconscious mechanisms can dominate our ‘world’ forcing our words into strange contortions. Certain words present themselves to us but they may not be the right ones (or the most appropriate).

Dreams and memories are formed from the condensation of signifiers onto our consciousness. As signifiers condense on our consciousness they bring other completely unrelated chains into touch with our consciousness and produce a metonymic effect (things related to that signifier). Unconscious content is indestructible and unpredictable and based not on grammatical logic of natural languages (such as English), but more to do with artificial languages (computer, mathematics, etc which work to rules of logic unfamiliar to us). Remembering, in the unconscious, is not to do with our will to order information for our disposal, but how signifying chains keep count and regulate each other through a syntax (rules and laws) that is not from a pre-existing reality. This syntax may prevent us from remembering, bringing to consciousness, certain signifiers, as these may be blocked by their ordering within the unconscious. The unconscious cannot forgotten.

The Unconscious assembles

Unconscious language processing has nothing or little to do with any ‘actual’ meaning of words. Language in the unconscious ciphers (decodes a code). Language brings meaning to the meaningless. And so for the patient, the root cause of a symptom, in its raw form, is always an irreducible, signifying element which subjects the patient. Signifiers form bridges with their mimetic, metaphoric, accidental, phonic content and similarities. These manifest themselves in signifying chains which for the neurotic, requires an often meaningless cipher to produce the desired overcoming of a symptom.

Knowledge without a subjective

The unconscious contains knowledge which isn’t subjectivized. This is a passive inscription onto the subject, brought by a connection between signifiers.

3) The creative function of the word: The symbolic and the Real

J1 (the primordial Khoratic, pre-symbolic pleasure) is the first jouissance. Once we have acquired language, when the first signifier cuts forever a fissure in the Real, the smooth homogeneous surface is made into the heterogeneous differentiated surface of ‘reality’, which can be though and talked about. Therefore, existence is a product of language. Language brings things into human reality (language brings things which had no existence reality via a process of ciphering). The Real does not exist as it proceeds language. That which is unsybolized ex-sists6. This is a Heideggerian term which means to stand apart, or outside of that which exists. Ex-sistence resonates with the word ecstatic and ecstasis, which brings ex-sistence into the economy of jouissance. The Real is that which is not yet symbolized and resists symbolization. It is the job of the analyst to let the analysand (person being analysed) to put into words that which was previously unarticulatable. It is the analysts’ job to intervene in the patients Real and not their ‘reality’.

The symbolic bars the Real (symbolic / Real = reality)


The goal of analysis is to focus on the scraps of the Real which have been too traumatic to think about. By daydreaming, talking and thinking about these traumatic things they can be brought into relation with other signifiers. The trauma is a blockage (fixation) which is the opposite of language. For in melancholia, there is no substitution because something of the Real remains to be symbolized. To bring this into relation is to dialectize the analysand’s discourse. To bring it into movement and out of fixation.

The first experience of the Real is as a baby (R1), which is them mediated by language (R2), yet as there can only be a set of 2, R1 is constantly circled while never achieving it. It is the phastasmatic event that in ‘reality’ never took place and is unknown, but it is that which causes every attempt to articulate the Real to fail.

Interpretation hits the cause

The analyst manipulates the analysand to circle around that which he or she is unable to put into words. Thus “interpreting hits the cause”. Garbled speech and conflated words bring us closer to the stuff of language than well articulated phrases, serving as a bridge between the symbolic and the Real. They may not have clear meaning, but these words may resonate deeper within the subject than we cam ever tell.

Incompleteness of the symbolic order: The (w)hole in the Other

Language is a structurally untotalizable thing, as a set of all signifiers cannot exist (as there is always something Other which is outside of language). There is always a kink in the system, an aporia. R2 is the set which seeks to include everything, all symbolization, yet cannot include everything as it fails to include R1, the unsymbolizable R2 cannot possibly include.

Structure Vs. Cause

The signifying chain is the structure that functions automatically. Then there is the cause which interrupts the chain. Structuralism looks exclusively at this first level, while Lacan is concerned with this and with the second level disturbance of the signifying chain that produces an object and subjugates a subject. Science does not think the cause as Lacan does, it thinks cause as structure, the smooth flow of events determined by laws removes the subject from the cause. For Lacan, structure is la langue


The Lacanian Subject

Lacan defends both structuralism and post-structuralism. Structure and subject are essential to each other, where the subject is that supposed thing, an assumption. Yet the Lacanian subject is not the ‘individual’ or conscious subject of Anglo-American philosophy.

The thinking subject is the ego, which is a sedimentation of ideal images. These are compounded through identification of oneself in mirrors (between 6-18 months). The child is quite uncoordinated, a jumble of sensations and impulses. The mirror presents a unified surface that becomes charged with libidinal value when the powerful parents give praise to qualities and ideas that should be recognised (such as: it is you in the mirror; sit straight; be a model son; bad boy). Images of others and people all act as mirrors of the form that the child recognises as being similar to itself. It is the socialization which encourages responses to these stimuli which forms the child’s notion of self. These images of self are perpetually in flux, grafted onto each other, brought into linear reflection and identified as being the same self but in flux. The ego is a construct, Freud calls it an agency, but Lacan rejects the ego (which is the set of narcissism and fixation) and focuses on the unconscious. Analysis is not to give the subject a true idea of themselves, this is impossible as the ego is always already a fiction, the ‘I’ is nothing but an order-word7 that points to something to identify, this ‘I’ is not the Lacanian subject. The Lacanian subject is not the subject of the statement, of that which is said, as this is the ideal image represented by the subject. The Lacanian subject is split, as to enunciate “I cannot deny but that it would be easy” reveals the concious enunciated contextual sentence of meaning with the slip of objection, a clear but hesitant ‘no’ discernible from ‘but’. Is is this type of unconscious fluctuating opinion and enunciation that slips into our discourse, unannounced and unknown to us as we say it. The subject is fleeting and appears in eruptions to the smooth flow of things, it breaks the signifying chain only to be replaced by the signifier thus killing the subject. The subject is barred by language, hides behind the signifier and is therefore alienated within the Other.

The Freudian subjective

Freud makes the unconscious into an agency, while Lacan never does this. This subject, as breach, has no life or longevity. It is the same as the Cartesian ‘I’ which must say ‘I think therefore I am’ all the time if it is to exist, so Descartes introduces God as a guarantor. Thinking and being for Descartes overlap momentary, but there is not being without thinking. The ‘I’ is the ego, and so Lacan turns Descartes inside out, as it is ‘false being’ (every time an analysand says ‘I am a good person’) a fixed self is posited, the unconscious neglected. Ego thinking is conscious rationalization and is thus false and fake.

Lacan’s Split Subject

The path of least resistance is to refuse the unconscious, to indulge in false being. The split subject for Lacan is both the ego and the unconscious, the false self and the automatic signifying chain of the unconscious. In diagrammatic terms, the subject is like a mobius strip, where there are two sides, yet if you follow a pencil along one side you cover each side and get back to where you started:

This splitting of the subject is essential to the subject, if the subject does not split properly, psychosis will follow as the unconscious is exposed for all the world to see all the time. Unconscious thought is hidden in neurosis but not in psychosis. Language does not automatically form a human child, it can misfire and cause psychosis. The subject is not a set structure, and not predictable. The subject is in excess of structure split between two forms of Otherness (ego and unconsciousness). The Lacanian subject is not so much an interruption, but this assumption of and responsibility for this Otherness. As Lacan says “one is always responsible for one’s position as a subject”.

5) The subject and the Other’s desire

Alienation and separation

When a child submits to language they submit to the Other, but gains by becoming a subject in language Psychosis is a kind of victory of the child over the Other, as there is a choice whether to submit or not to the Other. The choice of submission is to become a subject, to become alienated in language, set apart from the Real. The desire to have or not have the child is down to the parents. As the child is socialized it becomes obvious what the aims, if any, the parents want the child to have. Their desires become the desires of the child (good education, desire for love, cleanliness, reasonable, easy going, etc). The subject is caused by the Others desire. Yet the mother may have more desires than the child, and thus the child learns that there is rarely a total mother-child unity. The child as subject fails to be the mOther’s sole object of desire.

The Veil of Alienation

Alienation is the first step to subjectivity by choosing ones own disappearance. The subject exists, prior to alienation the subject has no being. Alienation gives potentiality to being by demarcating the subject as a place marker set from nothingness. The subject is therefore born from lack, nothingness, void, at the ontological level (its fundamental being). The Signifier founds the subject and has ontic potential (as a factual thing).

Desire and lack in separation

The mOther’s failure to provide the child with its full desire is not a negative event but a positive event in the formation of the subject. The mOther must show that she too is lacking, desiring and alienated, and submitted to the splitting/barring of language in order to witness the subjects invent. The subject attempts to fill the parents lack – shown by her desire for something else – with their own lack. A child’s questions ‘why?’ are not about the fascination of the world but to understand their place in the symbolic order of the parents desires. They want to secure a place within the the parents desire, between the space of the parents own split ego and unconscious. Man not only desires what the other desires but he desires it in the same way; his desire is structured exactly like the Others. Man learns to desire as an Other, as if he were some other person.

Psychosis results from the child’s failure to assimilate a ‘primordial’ signifier that structures the child’s symbolic universe. A psychotic child may well use language but not be in language. The primal signifier is that which has been signified as the cause of the mothers divergent desire away from the child. The Father, being the common focus of mother attention in the atomised family unit will bring about the formation of the primordial signifier by stealing away the mother attention. If this is not done, the child may acquire psychosis. The father is not an actual father, although it could be part of the picture, but anything that causes the mother (which should not be seen as a literal singularity but for any figure of care for the child) to loose focus and interest in the desire to satiate the baby’s khoratic jouissance He calls this ‘In-the-name-of-the-father’, which bars access to the mother as the sole provider of pleasure. The subject must seek out other domains of pleasure (‘the pleasure principle’ – the desire to actualize the greatest pleasure- is mediated by the ‘Reality principle’ – that which prevents direct access to pleasure and channels this drive through other pathways and into other more acceptable domains). The mOther’s desire is the fathers desire, which allows the formulation of the name-of-the-father as the third term that gives a firm ‘NO!’ to the subject., prohibiting the actualization of the desire and thus for ever defining the structures of desire for the subject. The mothers desire is symbolized by the subject thus creating a rift between mother and subject. Thus desires are transformed into signifiers. The subject is kicked out of the mothers by this signification and imperative of the fathers “stay away or else!”.

Object a: The Others desire

As the child begins to search for what is undecipherable in the Other’s desire, the child’s own desire is founded. The Others desire functions as the cause of the child’s desire. This inspiring desire is the ‘object a’, the object cause of desire. This is the unsymbolizable remainder that stays with the subject when they are expelled from the mother-child unity. It is this undecipherable, unknowable thing that is the lost memory of a unity (J1 and R1) that will e their constant quest. This fantasy of unity sustains the subject as a whole by providing the blueprint for well-being, completeness and wholeness. It is the recreation of this wholeness that enters into the realm of sexual fantasy, role plays, etc to maximise pleasure, for it is in fantasy that excites the subject ringing him or her to pleasure, or disgust or horror (as the most exciting thing may not be the most pleasurable). This is jouissance (excitement that could be both pleasure or/and pain). Sometimes there is satisfaction in suffering, just as the child cannot put their pleasure into value laden terms, jouissance cannot be put into easily value laden or socially dignified terms.

J1 is the first Khoratic pleasure of the mother-child unity, the paternal function then brings a separation of J1 via symbolic castration (the subject is incapable of being the sole object of desire), J2 is the remnants of the Real that is found somewhere in phantasy that tries to recreate J1, forever failing in the task as ‘object a’ retroactively formulates J1. Only through fantasy does the subject become whole, takes the subject beyond nothingness to procure ‘being’. Existence comes only through the symbolic order, yet being is supplied only by cleaving to the Real.

A further separation: The traversing of fantasy

The analyst plays the role of ‘object a’, the Other as desire not an language The analyst must not be the all knowing Other, as someone to imitate. They must reveal as little about themselves as possible and become the embodiment of desirousness, not an ego ideal. In some school of psychoanalysis, the patients identification with the analysis’s strong ego against their own weak ego is the desired outcome of analysis. For Lacan, the analyst is not a model for ego, but is there purely to shake the configuration of the analysand’s fantasy, changing their relation to the cause of desire, ‘object a’, to construct a new fundamental fantasy. The subject takes a new position with respect to language and the Other, to become the cause, the Other’s desire that brought one into the world, to take responsibility for it, to make it “one’s own”.

The encounter with the Other’s desire is a traumatic experience of pain/pleasure (jouissance), a sexual overload, where the subject comes to be as a response to this trauma. To traverse the fantasy means to subjectivity the trauma and take responsibility for its jouissance.

Subjectifiying the cause: A temporal conundrum

Meaning is not created instantly, but after the event in question. This is not a casual relation but an affect that brings the cause. The event (E1) occurs, but is not recognised until the second event (E2). Retroactively, E1 could then be shaped as a trauma (which it was not before, but in refection, it is symbolized as such). The analysand goes to the analyst without knowing of T1, but T1 is the fantasy that dominates them. The analysts job is to try and repeat this trauma, to symbolize it, to retroactivley shape it into something other than it was, T2. Thus bringing it dialectically into the signifying chain and traversing it as the object cause of desire. This signifierization is the turning into signifiers of the Other’s desire, thus making it digestible.

Traversing fantasy is to see the phallus (the signifier of desire) beyond those who represent it (mother father, policeman, e.g. the law). This is a freedom after the letter (within relations of signifiers), not a psychotic freedom before the letter (outside the symbolic order).

During analysis, the analyst will punctuate and interrupt the analysand to make them realize they don’t know what the analyst wants, thereby confronting the analysand with the analysts desire, disrupting the analysands fantasy of the other’s desire. The analyst makes the analysand’s fantasy of the analyst untenable, du to its constant interruption

The analysand, coming more aware of what they are saying tries to be as articulate as possible, yet words always reveal more than what is said. The analysand realizes that their words only become comprehensible to an authority who gives them ‘true meaning’, and thus becomes alienated by their ow words. The analyst it not aiming to allow the analysand to put into easy words what they think is the trauma, but constantly separate, push and dissolve the discourse they desire to mask the trauma with and thus, become divorced from the discourse the analysand desires to construct the trauma with.

Primal repression is the role of the dice which sets relations for one universe, which splits and sets the structure into motion. In becoming a subject, one must come to grips with this random toss and reclaim the I against the fantasy of ego which propels neurosis.

6) Metaphor and the precipitation of subjectivity

Desiring without an object is desirousness This is what the analyst tries to show, by disrupting the analysands stable fantasies about them. The subject as precipitate (sedimentation of meaning, signifier next to signifier) is also the subject of breach (the moment of the Real which establishes a link between two signifiers). Metaphors forge new meaning between signifiers, and as such the analysand must focus on creating the moment of breach, completing the metaphor creates the subject. The subject comes be being as a flash between signifiers.

The analyst must forge new metaphors for the analysand. The symptom of neurosis is a metaphor, therefore, the reconfiguration of the symptom, where the subject takes the place of the Other and the Other’s desire, alleviating their fixation. Metaphor brings new meaning into the world by bringing a new order to the signifying chain. To reach this breach does is not done through easy understanding and meaning, but jumps, splits and reworking that cause meaning to split out of joint. This fissure in the symbolic is where the Real emerges, unsettling the symbolic order and causing a new chain of signifiers to form, a new metaphor of the subject. Meaning is easy, it is the task of the ego to acquire meaning and understanding. ‘True understanding’ goes beyond this conscious egocentric acquisition to force from the symbolic something new from the Real. ‘True understanding’ is change, it is not conscious insight.

The two faces of the psychoanalytic subject

This is between unconscious meaning and being-in-the-breach (subject in the Real). The subject in the Real is the castrated subject: the subjects alienation by and in the Other and separation from the Other. The subject is castrated if they are in language. The subject who is inadequately castrated is a subject whose separation is not complete: a subject who mistakes the others demand for desire in fantasy. The subject refuses to sacrifice their castration for the other’s jouissance; castration must be surrendered to traverse the fantasy. The subject must renounce their position as subjugated by the Other – as castrated – in order to be beyond neurosis. The castrated subject presents itself to the Other for recognition, becoming more castrated the more it is represented in and by the Other. The subject is created in the attempt to signify the Other.

Words act in the unconscious as the representatives of drives. Drives are repressed by a primal repression that deny them entrance to consciousness. This repression creates the unconscious itself. S1 is the subject as ‘unitary signifier’ and S2 is the ‘binary signifier’. S2 is the repressed: the name-of-the-father, the Other’s desire, S1 is the master signifier. The name-of-the-father is an unpronounceable that structures all symbolic relations, without it the subject is not possible. If S1 is not constructed properly (through the unsubstantial break in mother-child relations), the signifier, S2 is not able to neutralize the child’s jouissance (as the child will symbolise S2 in order to overcome the trauma of the absence of the mother with an always already available symbolic relationship to the mother during her absence). If S1 is not in place every S2 I unbound (words becomes things in themselves not things with associations). S2 retroactively gives meaning to S1 and S3 and so on are linked to each other in a conglomeration of meanings. Meaning is only furnished by the Other.

Forging links, (facilitation) or frayage (in the French) brings links between signifiers that joins a path between them, a kind of reaching path-breaking. This is the subject. The subject is the path that links signifiers and forges new links between signifiers. The master signifier may be a word that has conscious meaning for the analysand (such as the word death) but has an unconscious content that is unknown to the analysand which is an unarticulatable barrier, preventing further association. To eradicate this, the analyst needs to create the conditions which dialectize this master signifier, to bring in a relationship with other signifiers. Autism presents many S1’s that may be impossible to dialectize, while neurotic may have many different S1’s that bring stopping points to conversation. Dialectization creates new metaphors of the subject, the precipitation of subjectivity. Freud always said that the rock of castration was unpassable, but for Lacan it is an imperative if the subject is to be forged. Full separation is needed to dialectize the master signifier, to allow for a metaphor of subjectivity that brings S2’s into connections of meaning. Separation from identifications which cause fixation is what psychoanalysis is all about, which does not mean to run away from these things, but to re-order them within the social symbolic network that will refresh their meaning and inherent relationship to the construction of one’s own subjectivity.


The Lacanian Object: Love, desire, jouissance

Object (a): cause of desire

It is the residue of symbolization – the Real (R2) that remains, insists and ex-sists after or despite symbolization-as the traumatic cause, and as that which interrupts the smooth functioning of law and the automatic functioning of the symbolic chain. It is the remainder of the hypothetical moth-child unity to which the subject clings to fantasy to achieve a sense of wholeness, as the Others desire, as the jouissance object, the part of the mother the child takes with them after separation, the foreign cause of the subjects existence. It is also the lost object, the subjects being and the product of dialectization of a master signifier. It is a polyvalent term that was Lacan’s proudest contribution to psychoanalysis.

‘Object relations’

The foremost imaginary object is the ego. Imaginary relations exist between ego’s in terms of identifications (love) and differences (hate). Sibling rivalry is the best example of imaginary relations involving hatred. Whereas young children do not call into question their subornation to their parents, perceiving clear differences, they do context their rank among other siblings. The attempt to find similarities may first give rise to love but ultimately leads to rivalry. This is called transference in therapy, where the analysand compares and contrasts themselves to the phastasmatic projection of the analyst Sometimes the analyst gets caught up in this game, thus resulting in counter transference

Symbolic relations and the other as object

Symbolic relation are those of the Other as language, knowledge, law, career, academia, authority, morality, ideals. These objects as designated by the Other into grades, diplomas, success, marriage, children, etc. These cause anxiety to neurotics, while in analysis, the only important symbolic relation is the analyst as Other, as an avatar or representation of the Other. The goal is to stop the interference in symbolic relations created by imaginary relations (associations of like and dislike, identities and differences, i.e. that which mediates relations to the Other). For the analysand, the the analyst is the ‘subject supposed to know’ (to know everything that is wrong and to make right). This is the imaginary at work. If the analyst gives interpretations and knowledge to the analysand, they maintain this illusion. They should act a the opposite, someone who does not know, someone who will not for fill their fantasmatic projections of Otherness. They should be the lack that encourages the other to desire. The analyst does not have knowledge, the analysands unconscious is the bringer of knowledge. This is the ultimate authority, not the annalist Although the analysand demands from the any list love (which is always what we are seeking), the analyst should encourage desire, not the perpetuation of analyst as love object (love always has an object).

Desire is neither the appetite for satisfaction nor the demand for love, but the difference which results from the subtraction of the first from the second-the very phenomenon of their splitting. (Lacan, Ecrits, 287)

Desire has not object, we seek not to satisfy it but perpetuate it and make it stronger. It is the gaze of the other that contains the desirousness that causes desire in the subject. We usually think of the desire for a partner in ego terms of identifiable qualities (hair, looks, personality, etc), but it may just be that certain way they look at you is all you really want. The act of looking arouses desire in itself, regardless of the identifiable qualities of an object. One does not seek love but desire, in order to remain as a desiring subject. This object cause of desire cannot be seen or identified, it belongs to the Real, something unformalizable.

Lost Objects

An object is encountered at the outset by the child, not actively sought, a child cannot seek out an object until after an encounter, as a memory can form which then allows hallucination (primary process) or to be sought out in the external world (secondary process). There is no intentional finding at all, only refinding. Animals find, humans refind. Animals look through instinct, humans look through random encounter and can then refind the object of satisfaction only after it has been experienced. In a way, the object was always lost as it was never encountered the first time as it will later be known, as it will only be known as the lost thing that exists in fantasy. It is always already lost. The breast is the perfect lost object. It is from the separation of the baby and breast that brings the baby to symbolize the breast as the object of desire, yet it is never the actual thing encountered again, only the mediated symbolic thing that can never discover it anew. Actual breasts found after the initial encounter are never quite it. Object a is the left overs from symbolization that brings jouissance, and the desire to find a more perfect fix, the drive to reach a fully experience of the lost object that is forever always just out of reach, but always hinted at.

Das Ding (the Freudian Thing) is that unsymbolizable object within the other. It is in the other yet beyond the other. The subject keeps their distance form this, and comes into being as a defence against it, against the primal experience of pleasure/pain associated with it. Hysteria comes from the experience of sexual primordial encounter with the other than brings disgust.

Surplus value, Surplus jouissance

Object a is equatable to Marx’s idea of surplus value. The profit, the right to enjoyment is for the capitalist who takes the excess from that invested. The workers are there to produce it, not enjoy it, working for the Other jouissance (precisely what the neurotic hates). However, Marx’s notion of alienated labour is very different from Lacan’s notion of alienation. Lacan sees alienation as an essential aspect of the formation of the subject, Marx sees alienation as a socio-historical construct based upon class relations8

8) There’s no such thing as a sexual relationship

Dialectics in Hegel moved from part to whole. The point of dialectics was to create a whole. Lacan’s dialectics are not concerned for the whole: the whole is never whole.


When we are castrated we are forced to give up jouissance. Castration has nothing to do with the penis, and applied to both men and women a alienated subjects. Jouissance shifts to the Other, in castration, which as we know is language. Language does not get off on itself, but as it is in us, we can derive jouissance there from (such as in the playful manipulation of words for jokes or absurdities). We manipulate language and let it go, let it act outside us, we suffer a lack. The worker’s surplus value is not so much a surplus but a lack, enjoyment is taken away from the worker and given to the capitalist free market.

Freud saw this loss as ‘instinctual renunciation’ where the loss of the love object was the primordial cause of seeking others elsewhere. Civilization is the sublimation of drives by the repression of the the lost love object dictated by the primordial name-of-the-father.

Jouissance does not operate in isolation from the other and so to take universal human rights such as ‘no one can stop me from using my body as I see fit’ would limit jouissance, drying it up for everybody. This law is supposed to gain exclusive rights to the jouissance of my body, but results in its destruction. For Freud, he saw that the most severe punishment is enacted upon those who keep to the letter of the law, as their jouissance is emptied out of them: the symbolic law kills the living being to replace it with codes of behaviour and fallible ethical legal systems.

The Phallus (Is not genitalia)

The parents attention has the highest value in the child’s universe: all other values are measured from this. The signifier of desire is the desire of the parent that goes beyond the desire for their child: this signifier is the phallus (this is a generalization and not a rule). The phallus (as penis) has come to symbolize this desire for various reasons of its visibility and role in sex, etc (these are imaginary anthropological examples, it is not structural). Object a is never a signifier (the Real), the phallus always is a signifier (the symbolic/imaginary).

The phallus is the signifier of lack of being that symbolizes the space the subject will come to be in. Lack sets the symbolic in motion. Why would a child learn to speak if its needs were always provided for it? It needs lack to become a subject, subjectivity suffers when the mother is always there.

No sexual relationship

As in no sexual intercourse Not in the physical sense, but in the abstract sense There is no direct relationship between men and women because unlike many mythological understandings of man and women together are one9, for Lacan this is impossible, as nothing that can be written or spoken about them completely. The metaphor of women as passive and men as active is inadequate Each sex is defined through a third term.

Defining sexual difference from a biologic undermines the great variety of cases which do not match up to supposed natural or genetic principles. Masculinity and femininity have uncertain content. Especially in neurotic men and women who are speaking subjects. Lacan’s theories of sexuation should be taken from this perspective and not be used as general theories for all.


A man, for Lacan, is not defined by their biology but by the phallic function

  • Men are wholly alienated within language

  • Men are altogether subject to symbolic castration

  • men are completely determined by the phallic function

Man is finitely defined by the phallic register. The boundary is the father and incest taboo: man’s desire never goes beyond the incestuous wish. The father’s ‘no!’ is the point of origin which sets the signifying chain within primal repression. The chain joined by S2. Man’s pleasure is therefore limited to the play of the signifier itself, as symbolic jouissance. Thought itself can be jouissance, as mental masturbation

Men’s fantasies are tied to object as to keep the symbolic moving, to avoid the Real. Therefore, jouissance for men is wholly masturbatory, as sex with a woman is mediated as the woman is symbolically other, with minimal relation to the Real.


Women are defined as not being wholly defined by the phallus Men can only experience phallic jouissance, women can experience that and an Other jouissance (not every biological won is a woman as Lacan defined them, but there maybe an unknown structural element to this relationship). Women can step beyond the boundaries of language and the pittance of pleasure allowed by it because joins with S1 (the presymbolic signifier of the Real).

Lacan’s work on sexual difference reworks traditional logic to that of the logic of the signifier. A signifier ever stands alone. We would never talk about black if black was all we could see. It is because there is something other than black that black has meaning Every universal claim is grounded in the ex-sistence of an exception which proves the rule. Man’s essence implies the existence of the father. But there is one man where the phallic function does not apply, the primal father who never to castration, as he is his own law. The primal father does not exist, he ex-sists. The primal father has one set for women: accessible. Castration men’s that for man, women exist in two sets: accessible and inaccessible. Women who are accessible are defined as not off limits, which means men can not enjoy a woman as a woman, but always as a fantasy of her, the object a. Only the primal father has a true sexual relationship with a woman. Every other man has a relationship not with a woman but with abject a. The incestuous wish lives on in the unconscious, every man, because of castration, defines the accessible women through the inaccessible women (who would gain him the most pleasure), so he fantasises about the inaccessible, and images himself to to be granted the privileges of the primal father who know no boundaries, no guilt and gains the most jouissance. All men are castrated, yet the ideal of non castration lives on in every man.

Feminine Structure

Some part of every woman escapes the reign of the phallus. But they are part determined to. If there was no phallic function he or she would be psychotic. For the woman this no phallic part ex-sits, as it has no place in the phallic order. It maintains its radical alterity in relation to logos. Woman is not less whole than man (as man is only whole in respect to the phallic function). Women are only less whole when considered in relation to the phallic function. Woman is not a whole: woman . Woman gains access to the signifier of desire in relation to man or masculine instance. So a woman is related to the Real as she can find a signifier for S1, the mOther’s desire, which is the frontier for the Real and the symbolic, which institutes the signifying chain. However this is not a totalizing into the phallic symbolised order, but a bordering of the Real and symbolic which is quite Other to the symbolic of order of man. This is the Others jouissance The feminine jouissance raises the ordinary object to a Thing (the lost object), such as God, Jesus, Music, art, etc which gives rapture and ecstasy: a Real satisfaction, beyond neurosis.

Sexual identity works on two levels. Successful identifications that constitute the ego(usually with one or both parents), therefore an imaginary level of sexual identity). This is in contrast to the formulas of sexuality where the subject can situate themselves on either side, masculine or feminine. In so far as a woman forms a relationship with a man she is reduced to object a, in his fantasy, she is viewed from masculine culture which subjectivises her as a collection of male fantasy objects in stereotypical clothes (skirts, long hair, make up, high shoes, etc). This image contains and disguises object a. This position in regards to jouissance implies subjectivity, thus the feminine subject comes into being. Many feminist theorists work I an attempt to subjectivity the Real, to bring truly feminine writing into public discourse.

The signifier goes beyond its role I logos, signifier ex-sist outside the symbolic field in nonsensical ways. Signifiers work beyond their socially acceptable roles, they have an effect beyond their meaning. The signifier, has significance, there is defiance in the signifier. Defiance of the social symbolic order. Jouissance of the Other depends on this non-symbolic effect of the signifier, the jouissance of the letter, it has effect without signifying, and therefore touches on the Real. The masculine in the symbolic whereas the feminine is the letter.

The hommosexual, is a woman whose loves men, like a man and her desire is structured like his. For those who are characterized by masculine structure, woman is Other, radically other (the others jouissance). She is indecent, as her jouissance requires no relation to the phallus 9unlike the masculine jouissance which is a pittance left after the drives have subjected to the symbolic. The Other jouissance is a jouissance of love. Where there is full satisfaction of the drives: as in religious ecstasy, a bodily corporal jouissance not localized in the genitals. The Other jouissance is asexual (phallic jouissance is sexual), yet it is in an of the body. The man may get off on the object a, but he may need a woman (as socially defined, therefore acceptable) to mediate object a. Woman however, may not need a man at all to actualize her pleasure.

The truth of psychoanalysis

All truth is mathematizable. Truth here is symbolic logic. Yet for Lacan, the only truth of psychoanalysis is that there is no sexual relationship. The problem is to bring the subject to acknowledge that truth.

Metaphors of the subject as systems

The Borrowmian knot

The Borromean knot is a topological conceptualisation of the RSI (Real symbolic, imaginary) in which each order is depicted as a circle that links each of the other orders. It is “a way of illustrating the interdependence of the three orders of the real, the symbolic and the imaginary, as a way of exploring what it is that these three orders have in common”. Its chief value lies in the fact that it “is formed from two separate links joined to each other by a third, and in such a way that if any one of the links is severed the whole thing falls apart”. That is, each of the orders is fundamental to the whole in such a way that the separation of any one would automatically result in the collapse of the entire nexus, with catastrophic results for the individual constituted and traversed by it: “‘each term is sustained only in its topological relation with the others’”.10

Lacan’s view of sexual difference should be seen as a new topology that allows for the viewing of symptoms fro different positions. This way of never seeing the complete thing but of shifting topologies could be considered a ‘Godelian10 structuralism11’, which maintains the importance of structure, but points to necessary incompleteness, fundamental undecidability and therefore, it is impossible to define truth of a language within that language. The exception to the rule not only defines the rule, but redefines the rules. His system is such that the closer he gets to formulating a complete system, the more he calls it into question. The system to end all systems is not the perfect system, but the system that brings new formulations of systems.


The status of psychoanalytic discourse

9) The four discourses

Psychoanalysis is not a totalizing discourse. It does not aim to explain the whole of the world, but it does have an effect in the world because it is discourse. Power is the dominant discourse I the world today, power for powers sake, the will to power11. Psychoanalysis is structured differently to discourses of power, as it aims to re-structure the analysand’s desire, not to empower the client’s ego. It allows us to understand the functioning of different discourses in a new way. Each discourcse frames the world, showing one thing and hiding others, which is why totalizing discourses are impossible (as there must always be something that is outside, that ex-sists to that discourse)12.

The master’s discourse

The master’s discourse is necessary for alienation, to become a subject, therefore it holds privileged place among the discourses The master is not a man but a signifier, it is that which must be obeyed at all times, not because of reason, as it is a nonsensical signifier, but because it says so. The master is S1, while the slave is S2. The slave comes to learn knowledge (as production) yet the master is not concerned with knowledge, only its growing power. An example of this is the capitalist as master and the worker as slave, object a (which produce surplus value).The capitalist procures the surplus jouissance of the worker. The master must hide their castration from the slave (as the master is too a being in language) The dissimulated truth shows up in the master who is split between conscious and unconscious yet veiled by the signifier.

Lacan takes the master and slave dialectic from Hegel to show the struggle between the two is a struggle for the other’s desire. What makes the master’s control over the slave gratifying, beyond the various objects of desire he produces, is that he controls the slave’s desire. In forcing the slave to transform a natural object into an object of desire, the master merely succeeds in obtaining a desirable object. What makes this process existentially satisfying to the master is that he knows that the slave desires the object as much as he does. This knowledge of the slave’s desire (whether actual or merely supposed) makes the object all the more desirable, as it is now an emblem of the slave’s (the other’s) desire. Moreover, the more the slave must suspend his desire in order to produce a given object for the master’s consumption, the more the final product may be said to contain the sublimation of that desire. It becomes more than itself as a result of the process by which it is transformed, effectively absorbing the slave’s suppressed and sublimated desire as added value. The model of desire that emerges from Hegel’s drama, and which Lacan adopts, is thus one in which desire exceeds both demand and need. Whereas demand and need can both be met, desire is an existential condition which no object or series of objects can ever satiate; it is a “lack of being” as opposed to a “lack of having”

The University Discourse

Lacan said “for centuries knowledge has been pursued as a defence against truth”, if knowledge is the dominant discourse, it is knowledge and reason that reign: everything has its reason. The master’s and the university discourses are linked, as Lacan suggests the university discourse serves to reinforce, legitimate and rationalize the master’s will: i.e. that the university is an arm of capitalist production. In capitalist production, knowledge is produced and rationalized by the university discourse. The product/loss is the divided subject. The product of the university is the knowing subject, therefore, the unknowing subject is excluded (the unconscious). Philosophy has always served the master’s discourse, as well as the worst kind of science. Knowledge from eh university does not try to come to grips with the Real, but as an encyclopaedic endeavour to exhaust a field of investigation (i.e. mapping the brain, genome, type of mental disorder, etc.

The Hysteric’s Discourse

The hysteric demands that the master show themselves properly, and produce something worthy of knowledge. The hysteric is between conscious and the unconscious, thus they desire the conflictual or contradictory. A hysteric gets off on knowledge. Knowledge for the capitalist is only good because it can be put to productive use, they do not enjoy it for itself. Knowledge remains inaccessible to the master. In the university, knowledge is not an end in itself, as it is there to serve and legitimate the master and the continued existence of the academic.

For Lacan, science proper represents the hysterics discourse. Such as Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle13. The hysteric pushes the master to admit their knowledge is lacking, that their reasoning is incomplete, to admit to the unknown object a. For the hysteric, the truth is object a, the Real, not the study of purely measurable symbolic conditions. Heisenberg showed that physics can be the domain of the hysteric, driven by object a, and not by the master’s rationalized imperative.

The Analysts’ Discourse

The analyst plays the part of the pure desiring subject (desirousness itself) and interrogates the subject in their decision, to bring a fissure between the conscious and unconscious, to cough up a new master signifier. A master signifier is a dead end, stopping association. The analyst must bring the master signifier into relation with other signifiers. As analysis proceeds more signifiers may present themselves that act as master signifiers which may hold not consciously special relation at all for the analysand, but remain a blockage to association and therefore, the cause of the patients symptoms. The new master signifier could be a piece of non-sense, unconscious knowledge not yet brought into the signifying chain, yet to be subjectivized. The analyst looks for the slips of the tongue, the mistakes in discourse, not the content itself (I.e. A long monologue on the intensities in Francis Bacon’s art – which is the university discourse). By pointing out these slips, the analyst undermines the analysand as master of language, and brings the speaking subject to recognise there is an Other agent that speaks through them.

The social situation of psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis operates within social and political discourses which can appropriate it as a means to furthering the claims of their own interests. The institutionalization of psychoanalysis can stifle its possibilities to morph and change as texts get standardised, training becomes formalized, and ideas becomes doctrines within aggrandizing institutions. This is why Lacan never wanted a solid Lacanian school of psychoanalysis, and so dissolved each institution as they became too systematized.

There’s no such thing as a metalanguage

Language for Lacan is always Other. Wittgenstein came to the same hypothesis with his private language argument14. Lacan dos not provide a unique language outside of language that can analyse the working of language from an objective position beyond it, but elucidates the workings of structure itself. Each discourse operates within its own dimensions of truth, yet each makes a loss (each is castrated in its capabilities at articulating the Real).

Psychoanalysis and science

Science is a discourse and as such tries to make its own form of rationalization prevail as the hegemonic discourse. Not every science works to a set of axiomatic mathematizable propositions, measurable empirical entities and pure concepts. Yet scientific discourse has be promoted as such, for reasons of perpetuating the university and master’s discourse, because it fundamentally neglects the subject by claiming objectivity as its guiding principle. As Lacan says, science ‘sutures

or neglect the subject.

Science relies on truth and false distinctions, but these take on meaning only within a symbolic logic. True and false are values which do not challenge the prevalent logic but provide answers to questions which are posed within the constraints of the set of axioms that founds each scientific logic. Psychoanalysis questions these self for filling axioms by way of the Real, the impossible that is not subsumed into easy symbolic verifiability. Science takes the Cartesian subject, the thinking conscious being, it does not understand the split subject, the “I am where I am not thinking”, and “I think where I am not”. Science is not yet capable of undertaking psychoanalysis, as the object of psychoanalysis cannot be accommodated within their axiomatic paradigms Science is based on understanding. Psychoanalysis is not based on understanding, but subjectification, traversing the fantasy, separation, etc, as the analysand, should, after successful analysis, not need to remember what was said and done, as that conscious quest for understanding was not the desire. To keep this position, the analyst must try to keep to analytic discourse, although many adopt the university discourse. Psychoanalytic theory and teaching adopts the hysterics discourse, always questioning the master discourse to prevent systematization. People adopt each type of discourse in different situations. There is never one mode of discourse, as they could be unsuitable for the situation. The politician adopts the masters discourse in front of other authority figures; the university discourse of justice and democracy in front of the public; the hysterics discourse of probing questions in front of their advisors.

Psychoanalysis does not aim to help the analysand’s ‘good’ as socially defined, but their Eros. Eros for Hegel was the desire to achieve perfection through another, the perfect mate. Lacan wants the analyst to help the analysand to a greater jouissance through never giving ground relative to ones desire, even though the possibility being whole is forever postponed, it is the desire for desire itself that the analyst must bring about from the analysand, through the articulation of a new master signifier.

Trasmissability of psychoanalysis

For Lacan, as all communication is a miscommunication, yet when the analysand has passed their analysis, they must talk to two other people about their analysis who then in turn, talk to a committee. It therefore is seen that psychoanalysis does not become bogged down in concepts, labels and systematized formulations, but that the process itself maintains ‘generic procedures’ which keep psychoanalysis as a practise and not a just a theory, obsessed with its own vocabulary and concepts.

Ethics of psychoanalysis

Analysis is not pragmatic in its aims, if pragmatism means compliance with social, economic, and political norms and realities. It is a praxis of jouissance and jouissance is anything but practical. The techniques that psychoanalysis must use to deal with with jouissance wreak havoc on the principle that time is money and on accepted notions of professional conduct. Most therapists are expected to deal with their clients which aim to promote their own good, psychoanalysis aims only to increase their Eros.

1See Heidegger’s essay ‘Logos’ in Early Greek Thought (Lacan translated this into French)

2World here means my meaningful world of symbolic relations, not the world in its physicality

3Julia Kristeva is a psychoanalyst and literary theorist

4The word ‘Khora’ date back to Plato Timeaus (as that which brings the forms into being), but Kriteva uses it within a maternal sense of dependent pre-subjectivity. The baby has yet to articulate the phenomenon of absence and presence, or even the domain of itself and the other.

5 A neurotic is someone with neuroses. These are mental disorders that have no discernible underlying anatomical causes and whose symptomatology arises from intrapsychic conflict between unconscious fantasies bound up with the Oedipus complex and the defences that these fantasies arouse.

6This is a Heideggerian term which means “standing outside of” or “standing apart from”, such as in an ecstatic state of mind (such as ecstasy). Something that ex-sists is not intimate (inside, that which exists) but extimate (outside). It is unspeakable, indecent, but it can be written.

7See Deleuze and Guattari Postulates of Linguistics for more on the ‘I’ and the ‘collective assemblage’

8See ‘Wither Oedipus?’ in The Ticklish Subject, by Slavoj Zizek for a detailed account of how Lacan’s notion of the subject underwrites Marx’s theory of class struggle. Revolution will be through the rejuvenation of the primordial father’s position of authority, against the postmodern relativism which is a product of capitalism need to embrace difference (multiculturalism) to create ‘equal’ economically exploitable subjects.

9See Carl Jung for a psychoanalytic view of sexual difference through the lens of masculine/feminine dichotomy. Especially the Electra Complex, his female version of the Oedipus complex.

11For an examination of the will to power as nihilism, see Heidegger’s ‘Nietzsche’

12See Heidegger’s ‘Aletheia’ in Early Greek Thinking, for an understanding of truth as unconcealing that conceals. A distinctly anti-Hegelian stance to consciousness and the ‘reasonable’ comprehension of ‘reality’.

13We cannot know precisely both a particle’s position and it’s momentum at the same time. If we are able to ascertain one parameter, the other must necessarily remain unknown. There is, therefore, a limit to our ability to measure and thus a true limit to scientific discourse. There is an unfillable whole in the set of knowledge.

14“My language is not a private one”, therefore, the definition of internal psychological states is an illusion. The words which describe inner states are defined purely by their outward symbolic appearance (such as ‘pain’ is symbolized by crying, the word ‘pain’ does not describe pain)

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