Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Objet a, Obsessive, and Hysteric

Slavoj Žižek, First as Tragedy, then as Farce (London: Verso, 2009), pp. 63-4:

When Lacan defines the object of desire as originally lost, his point is not simply that we never know what we desire and are condemned to an eternal search for the "true" object, which is the void of desire as such, while all positive objects are merely its metonymic stand-ins. His point is a much more radical one: the lost object is ultimately the subject itself, the subject as an object; which means that the question of desire, its original enigma, is not primarily "What do I want?" but "What do others want from me? What object--objet a--do they see in me?" Which is why, apropos the hysterical question "Why am I that name?" (i.e., where does my symbolic identity originate, what justifies it?), Lacan points out that the subject as such is hysterical. He defines the subject tautologically as "that which is not an object," the point being that the impossibility of identifying oneself as an object (that is, of knowing what I am libidinally for others) is constitutive of the subject. In this way, Lacan generates the entire diversity of the answers to the hysterical question: the hysteric and the obsessive enact two modalities of the question [....]

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

From First as Tragedy, then as Farce

Slavoj Žižek, First as Tragedy, then as Farce (London: Verso, 2009), p. 46:

"If there is a clinical lesson to be learned about parenthood, it is that there can be no clean, non-toxic parent: some libidinal dirt will always stain the ideal parental figure. And one should push this generalization to the end: what is toxic is ultimately the Neighbor as such, the abyss of desire and its obscene enjoyment. The ultimate aim of all rules governing interpersonal relations, then, is to quarantine or neutralize this toxic dimension, to reduce the Neighbor to a fellow man. It is thus not enough to search for contingent toxic components in (another) subject, for the subject as such is toxic in its very form, in its abyss of Otherness--what makes it toxic is the objet petit a on which the subject's consistency hinges."

Monday, September 28, 2009

From “Woman is One of the Names-of-the-Father, or How Not to Misread Lacan’s Formulas of Sexuation”

In lacanian ink 10 - 1995

by Slavoj Žižek

Available at:

The usual way of misreading Lacan's formulas of sexuation 1 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.
2 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 "not-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.

However, if we are to assume fully the true paradox of Lacan's formulas of sexuation, one has to read them far more literally: woman undermines the universality of the phallic function by the very fact that there is no exception in her, nothing that resists it. In other words, the paradox of the phallic function resides in a kind of short-circuit between the function and its meta-function: the phallic function coincides with its own self-limitation, with the setting up of a non-phallic exception. Such a reading is prefigured by the somewhat enigmatic mathemes that Lacan wrote under the formulas of sexuation and where woman (designated by the crossed-out l
a) is split between the capitalized Φ (of the phallus) and S(A), the signifier of the crossed-out Other that stands for the nonexistence/inconsistency of the Other, of the symbolic order. What one should not fail to notice here is the deep affinity between the Φ and S(A), the signifier of the lack in the Other, i.e., the crucial fact that the Phi, the signifier of the phallic power, phallus in its fascinating presence, merely gives body to the impotence/inconsistency of the Other.

Suffice to recall a political leader-what is the ultimate support of his charisma? The domain of politics is by definition incalculable, unpredictable; a person stirs up passionate reactions without knowing why; the logic of transference cannot be mastered, so one usually refers to the magic touch, to an unfathomable je ne sais quoi which cannot be reduced to any of the leader's actual features-it seems as if the charismatic leader dominates this (x), as if he pulls the strings where the Other of the symbolic order is incapacitated. The situation is here homologous to the common notion of God as a person criticized by Spinoza: in their endeavour to understand the world around them by way of formulating the network of causal connections between events and objects, people sooner or later arrive at the point at which their understanding fails, encounter a limit, and God (conceived as an old bearded wiseman, etc.) merely gives body to this limit-we project into the personalized notion of God the hidden, unfathomable cause of all that cannot be understood and explained via a clear causal connection.

The first operation of the critique of ideology is therefore to recognize in the fascinating presence of God the filler of the gaps in the structure of our knowledge, i.e., the element in the guise of which the lack in our positive knowledge acquires positive presence. And our point is that it is somewhat homologous with the feminine "not-all": this not-all does not mean that woman is not entirely submitted to the Phallus; it rather signals that she sees through the fascinating presence of the Phallus, that she is able to discern in it the filler of the inconsistency of the Other. Yet another way to put it would be to say that the passage from S(
A) to the Φ is the passage from impossibility to prohibition: S(A) stands for the impossibility of the signifier of the Other, for the fact that there is no "Other of Other", that the field of the Other is inherently inconsistent, and the Φ reifies this impossibility into the exception, into a sacred, prohibited/unattainable agent who avoids castration and is thus able really to enjoy (the primordial Father, the Lady in courtly love). 3

One can see now, how the logic of the formulas of sexuation ultimately coincides with that of public power and its inherent transgression:
4 in both cases, the crucial feature is that the subject is effectively 'in' (caught in the phallic function, in the web of power) only and precisely insofar as he does not fully identify with it but maintains a kind of distance towards it (posits an exception to the universal phallic function; indulges in the inherent transgression of the public Law), and, on the other side, the system (of public Law, of phallic economy) is effectively undermined by the very unreserved identification with it. 5 Stephen King's Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption tackles with all stringency this problem apropos of the paradoxes of prison life. The commonplace about prison life is that I am effectively integrated into it, ruined by it, when my accommodation to it is so overwhelming that I can no longer stand or even imagine freedom, life outside prison; so that my release brings about a total psychic breakdown, or at least gives rise to a longing for the lost safety of prison life. The actual dialectic of prison life, however, is somewhat more refined. Prison effectively destroys me, attains a total hold over me, precisely when I do not fully consent to the fact that I am in prison but maintain a kind of inner distance towards it, stick to the illusion that real life is elsewhere, and all the time indulge in daydreaming about life outside, about nice things that are waiting for me after my release or escape. I thereby get caught in the vicious cycle of fantasy, so that when eventually I am released, the grotesque discord between fantasy and reality breaks me down. The only true solution is therefore fully to accept the rules of prison life and then, within the universe governed by these rules, to work on a way to beat them. In short, inner distance and daydreaming about life elsewhere effectively enchains me to prison, whereas full acceptance of the fact that I am really there, bound by the prison rules, opens up a space for true hope. 6

The paradox of the phallic function (which symmetrically inverts the paradox of the feminine not-all) is therefore that the phallic function acts as its own self-limitation, that it posits its own exception.
7 And insofar as the phallic function, i.e., the phallic signifier, is the quasi-transcendental signifier, the signifier of the symbolic order as such, one can say that it merely reveals the fundamental feature of the symbolic order at its purest, a certain short-circuit of different levels that pertains to the domain of modal logic. In order to illustrate this a priori possibility of the short-circuit between different levels that pertains to the symbolic order qua order of symbolic mandates-titles, let us recall the opposition of father/uncle: father qua severe authority versus uncle qua good fellow who spoils us. The seemingly meaningless, contradictory title of father-uncle can be nonetheless justified as the designation of a father who is not fully ready to exert his paternal authority, but instead spoils his offspring. (To avoid misunderstanding: far from being a kind of eccentric exception, father-uncle is simply the normal everyday father who maintains a distance towards his symbolic mandate, i.e., who, while fully taking advantage of his authority, at the same time affects camaraderie and gives an occasional wink to his son, letting him know that, after all, he is also merely human ...) We are dealing here with the same short-circuit as that found in The History of VKP(B), the holy text of Stalinism, where-among other numerous flashes of the logic of the signifier-one can read that, at a Party congress, "... the resolution was unanimously adopted by a large majority". If the resolution was adopted unanimously, where is the(however tiny) minority opposed to the large majority?

The way to solve the riddle of this 'something that counts as nothing' is, perhaps, to read the quoted statement as the condensation of two levels: the delegates resolved by a large majority that their resolution is to count as unanimous... The link with the Lacanian logic of the signifier is here unmistakable-the minority which mysteriously disappears in this enigmatic/absurd overlapping between majority and unanimity is none other than the exception which constitutes the universal order of unanimity.
8 The feminine position, on the contrary, is defined by the rejection of this short-circuit-how? Let us take as our starting point the properly Hegelian paradox of coincidentia oppositorum that characterizes the standard notion of women: woman is simultaneously a representation, a spectacle par excellence, an image intended to fascinate, to attract the gaze, while still an enigma, the unrepresentable, that which a priori eludes the gaze. She is all surface, lacking any depth, and the unfathomable abyss.

In order to elucidate this paradox, suffice it to reflect on the implications of a discontent that pertains to a certain kind of feminist critique which persistently denounces every description of femininity as male cliché, as something violently imposed onto women. The question that instantly pops up is: what is, then, the feminine "in itself", obfuscated by male clichés? The problem is that all answers (from the traditional eternally feminine, to Kristeva and Irigaray) can again be discredited as male clichés. Carol Gilligan, for example,
9 opposes to the male values of autonomy, competitiveness, etc., the feminine values of intimacy, attachment, interdependence, care and concern, responsibility and self-sacrifice, etc. Are these authentic feminine features or male clichés about women, features imposed on women in the patriarchal society? The matter is undecidable, so that the only possible answer is, both at the same time. 10 The issue thus has to be reformulated in purely topological terms: with regard to the positive content, the male representation of woman is the same as woman in herself; the difference concerns only the place, the purely formal modality of the comprehension of the same content (in the first case this content is conceived as it is 'for the other', in the second case, as it is "in itself"). This purely formal shift in modality, however, is crucial. In other words, the fact that every positive determination of what woman is "in herself" brings us back to what she is "for the other" (for man), in no way compels us to the male-chauvinist conclusion that woman is what she is only for the other, for man: what remains is the topological cut, the purely formal difference between the "for the other" and "for herself".



1 Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan XX: On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972-73 (Encore), New York: W.W. Norton, 1998.

2 In the domain of politics, populist rhetoric offers a case of the exception which grounds universality: whenever the opinion prevails that politics as such is corrupted etc., one can be sure that there is always one politician to promulgate this universal distrust and thereby offer himself as the one to be trusted, the neutral/apolitical representative of the people's true interests...

3 The transsexual subject, by way of installing Woman at the place of the Name-of-the-Father, disavows castration. If one adopts the usual feminist-deconstructionist commonplace, according to which the notion of castration implies that woman, not man, is castrated, one would expect that when Woman occupies the place of symbolic authority this place will be branded by castration; if however, we take into account that both Woman and the primordial father are uncastratable, the mystery immediately disappears.

4 Slavoj Zizek, Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality, New York: Verso, 1994.

5 Since, in patriarchal societies, male predominance is inscribed into the symbolic order itself, does the assertion that women are integrated into it without exception-in a sense more fully than men-not run counter to their subordinate position within this order? Is it not more logical to ascribe the subordinate position to those who are not fully integrated into the symbolic order? What one must challenge here is the underlying premise according to which Power belongs to those who are more fully within the symbolic order. The exercise of Power, on the contrary, always involves a residue of the non-symbolized real (in the guise of the unfathomable je ne sais quoi which is supposed to account for the Master's charisma, for example). It is not accidental that both our examples of the constitutive exception, of the element non-integrated into the symbolic order (primordial father, Lady in courtly love), involve the figure of an extremely cruel Master not bound by any Law.

6 This paradox points towards the delusion which is the proper object of psychoanalysis-the delusion more refined than a simple mistaking of a false appearance for the thing itself. When, for example, I daydream about sexual prowess and conquests, I am, of course, all the time aware of the illusory character of my fantasizing-I know very well that, in reality, I'll never effectively do it, that I am 'not really like that'. The delusion resides elsewhere: this daydreaming is a screen which provides a misleading image of myself, not only of my capacities but also of my true desires-if, in reality, I were to find myself in a position to realize my daydreaming, I would surely retreat from it in panic. At an even more complex level (in the case of indulging in sadistic fantasies, for example), the very soothing awareness of how I merely daydream, of how "I am not really like that", can well conceal the extent to which my desire is determined by these fantasies...

7 Insofar as the symbolic constitutes itself by way of positing some element as the traumatic non-symbolizable Thing, as its constitutive exception, then the symbolic gesture par excellence is the drawing of a line of separation between symbolic and real; the real on the contrary, is not external to the symbolic as some kind of substance resisting symbolization-the real is the symbolic itself qua "not-all", i.e., insofar as it lacks the constitutive exception.

8 It would be productive to elaborate the link between the totalitarian leader and the art of the comic absurd, in which figures of the capricious Master, à la Jarry's roi Ubu, abound: i.e., to read Lewis Carroll with Samuel Goldwyn, Marx Brothers with Stalin, etc.

9 Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982. Such a feminine substantialism (this word is probably more appropriate than the usual essentialism) often serves as the hidden presupposition of feminist argumentation. Suffice it to recall the standard claim that a woman who actively participates in patriarchal repression (by way of following the male ideals of feminine beauty, focusing her life on raising the children, etc.) is eo ipso a victim of male manipulation and plays a role imposed on her. This logic is homologous to the old orthodox Marxist claim: the working class is, as to its objective social position, progressive. So that when workers engage in the anti-Semitic, right-wing populism, they are being manipulated by the ruling class and its ideology: in both cases, one has to assert that there is no substantial guarantee of the progressive nature of women or of the working class-the situation is irreducibly antagonistic and open, the terrain of an undecidable ideological and political struggle.

10 This ambiguity pertains already to the commonplace notion of femininity, which, in line with Gilligan, associates women with intimacy, identification, spontaneity, as opposed to male distance, reflectivity, calculation; but at the same time, also with masquerade, affected feigning, as opposed to male authentic inwardness-woman is simultaneously more spontaneous and more artificial than man.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Masculine subjectivity / Feminine subjectivity

With acknowledgements to Bruce Fink's The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance (Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 1995). What follows condenses and paraphrases material from pages 105-108.

According to Lacan, masculine subjects and feminine subjects are defined differently with respect to language and the symbolic order. Masculinity and femininity are defined as different kinds of relations to the symbolic order, different ways of being split by language. Lacan's formulas of sexuation concern only speaking subjects, and (according to Bruce Fink) only neurotic subjects.

Masculine subjects are those who are wholly determined by the phallic function. The phallic function refers to the alienation brought about by language. Masculine subjects are wholly alienated within language, and they are altogether subject to symbolic castration.

Being completely determined by the phallic function, masculine subjects are bounded or finite with respect to the symbolic register. In terms of desire, the boundary for a masculine subject is the father and his incest taboo. A masculine subject's desire never goes beyond the incestuous wish, as this would involve uprooting the father's boundaries as the very anchoring point of neurosis, the Name/"No!" of the Father. The masculine structure is in some ways homologous with obsessive neurosis.

Linguistically speaking, the limit of a masculine subject is the first signifier--the father's "No!"--which is the point of origin of the signifying chain and which is involved in primal repression: the institution of the unconscious and of a place for the neurotic subject.

A masculine subject's jouissance is limited to that allowed by the play of the signifier itself--to what Lacan calls phallic jouissance, and to what might similarly be called symbolic jouissance. Insofar as it is related to the body, phallic or symbolic jouissance involves only the organ designated by the signifier, which thus serves as a mere extension or instrument of the signifier.

The fantasies of a masculine subject are tied to that aspect of the Real that under-writes the symbolic order, namely objet petit a. Objet petit a keeps the symbolic moving in the same circuitous paths, in constant avoidance of the Real. Because the objet petit a is here only peripherally related to another person, Lacan refers to phallic or symbolic jouissance as masturbatory (Seminar XX, p. 75).

Feminine subjects, unlike masculine ones, are not wholly hemmed in by the phallic function; feminine subjects are not wholly under the sway of the signifier. Although she is also alienated, a feminine subject is not altogether subject to the symbolic order. Masculine subjects are limited to phallic jouissance, but (at least some) feminine subjects are capable of Other jouissance. This Other jouissance is connected with S1, not with S2. But whereas S1 (the father's "No!") functions for man as a limit to his jouissance, for a feminine subject, S1 is not a master but an an elective partner. S1 is an endpoint for masculine subjects, but an open door for feminine subjects. This means that she can step outside the boundaries set by symbolic (masturbatory) jouissance.

Feminine structure proves that the phallic function has limits, and that the signifier isn't everything. Feminine structure thus bears close affinities to hysteria as defined in the hysteric's discourse (see Seminar XVII).

It is crucial to bear in mind that the logic of sexuation described here bears little or no relation to biology. Thus a male hysteric is characterized by feminine structure; this means that he may experience both phallic and Other jouissance. Similarly, a female obsessive-compulsive is characterized by masculine structure, and her jouissance is exclusively phallic or symbolic in nature.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Parallax View on the Master-Signifier

From Slavoj Žižek's The Parallax View (MIT Press, 2006), pp. 372-3:

This obscene virtual dimension is inscribed into an ideological text in the guise of the fantasmatic background that sustains the emptiness of the Master-Signifier. The Master-Signifier is the signifier of potentiality, of potential threat, of a threat which, in order to function as such, has to remain potential (just as it is also the signifier of potential meaning whose actuality is the void of meaning: "our Nation," for instance, is the thing itself, the supreme Cause worth dying for, the highest density of meaning--and, as such, it means nothing in particular, it has no determinate meaning, it can be articulated only in the guise of a tautology--"The Nation is the Thing itself"). This emptiness of the threat is clearly discernible in everyday phrases like "Just wait! You'll see what will happen to you!"--the very lack of the specification of what exactly will befall you is what makes the threat so threatening, since it invites the power of my fantasy to fill it in with imagined horrors. As such, the Master-Signifier is the privileged site at which fantasy intervenes, since the function of fantasy is precisely to fill in the void of the signifier-without-signified: that is to say, fantasy is ultimately, at its most elementary, the stuff which fills in the void of the Master-Signifier: again, in the case of a Nation, all the mythic obscure narratives which tell us what the Nation is. In other words, sovereignty always (in its very concept, as Hegel would have put it) involves the logic of the universal and its constitutive exception: the universal and the unconditional rule of Law can be sustained only by a sovereign power which reserves for itself the right to proclaim a state of exception, that is, to suspend the rule of law(s) on behalf of the Law itself--if we deprive the Law of its excess that sustains it, we lose the (rule of) Law itself.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Parallax View on the "non-All"

From Slavoj Žižek's The Parallax View (MIT Press, 2006), pp. 253-4:

What happens to objet a when we pass to the other side of modernity, from capitalist dynamics to modern state power? Jean-Claude Milner has attempted to elaborate on this; his starting point is that democracy is based on a short circuit between majority and the All: the winner takes all, has all the power, even if his majority is merely a couple of hundred votes among millions, as was the case in the 2000 US elections in Florida: "the majority counts as all." In The History of the VKP(b), the Stalinist bible, there is a unique paradox when Stalin (who ghost-wrote the book) describes the outcome of the voting at a Party congress in the late 1920's: "With a large majority, the delegates unanimously approved the resolution proposed by the Central Committee--if the vote was unanimous, where did the minority disappear to? Far from betraying some perverse "totalitarian" twist, this identification is constitutive of democracy as such.

This paradoxical status of the minority as "something that counts as nothing" enables us to discern in what precise sense the demos to which democracy refers "incessantly oscillates between the all and the nonall/pastout": "either the language of the limited Alls encounters a figure of the unlimited, or the unlimited encounters a figure of limit." That is to say, a structural ambiguity is inscribed in the very notion of demos: it designates either the non-All of an unlimited set (everyone is included in it, there are no exceptions, just an inconsistent multitude) or the One of the People which has to be delimited from its enemies. Grosso modo, the predominance of one or the other aspect defines the opposition between American and European democracy: "In the democracy in America, majority exists, but it does not speak (the silent majority) and if it speaks, it becomes a particular form of minority." In the USA, democracy is perceived as the field of the interplay of multiple agents, none of which embodies the All--that is to say, which are all "minoritarian"; in Europe, democracy traditionally referred to the rule of the One-People. However, Milner draws from this an elegant conclusion as to what is going on today: in contrast to the USA, which is predominantly "non-All" as a society--in its economy, culture, ideology--Europe is now going much further toward constituting itself as an unlimited political (non-)All through the process of European unification, in which there is room for everyone regardless of geography or culture, right up to Cyprus and Turkey. Such a unified Europe, however, can constitute itself only on condition of the progressive erasure of all divisive historical traditions and legitimizations: consequently, the unified Europe is based on the erasure of history, of historical memory.

Recent phenomena like Holocaust revisionism, the moral equalization of all victims of the Second World War (the Germans suffered under the Allied bombardments no less than the Russians and the English; the fate of the Nazi collaborators liquidated by the Russians after the war is comparable to that of the victims of the Nazi genocide, and so on), are the logical outcome of this tendency: all specified limits are potentially erased on behalf of abstract suffering and victimization. And--this is what Milner is aiming at all along--this Europe, in its very advocacy of unlimited openness and multicultural tolerance, again needs the figure of the "Jew" as a structural obstacle to this drive toward unlimited unification; today's anti-Semitism, however, is no longer the old ethnic anti-Semitism; its focus is displaced from the Jews as an ethnic group to the State of Israel: "in the program of the Europe of the twenty-first century, the State of Israel occupies exactly the position that the name 'Jew' occupied in the Europe before the cut of 39-45." In this way, today's anti-Semitism can present itself as an anti-anti-Semitism, full of solidarity with the victims of the Holocaust; the reproach is just that, in our era of the gradual dissolution of all limits, of the fluidization of all traditions, the Jews wanted to build their own clearly delimited Nation-State.

Thus the paradoxes of the non-All provide the coordinates for the vicissitudes of modern anti-Semitism [....]

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Logic of Sexuation and the Real

The masculine logic is the universal and its constitutive exception.

The feminine logic is the not-all. The set is incomplete, but there is no exception to it.

The Real is the irreconcilable difference between the two logics. Here are some simplified examples for the beginner in philosophy that may help give a sense of how this works.

1. In Descartes' Meditations 1-2, the project of methodic doubt functions in a way that is homologous to the feminine logic. The subject as such is feminine, and the subject as such--the feminine subject--is the question.

However, once Descartes isolates his first principle, the cogito, 'I think therefore I am,' he starts with this (allegedly) intuitive knowledge, and begins his attempt to deduce all other kinds of knowledge from it. This project fails: for one thing, it involves a couple of fallacious 'proofs' of God's existence. The process of beginning with a first principle (the cogito) and then deducing all other kinds of knowledge from the cogito is homologous to the masculine logic. Thinking substance is the exception.

2. John Locke's philosophy involves an empiricist theory of knowledge, and a dualist theory of metaphysics. He argues that we receive simple ideas from the two kinds of substance, material substance (matter) and spiritual substance (soul). Out of these simple ideas our minds form complex ideas. Simple ideas of sensation are received into consciousness (through the sense organs) from material substance, and simple ideas of reflection are received into consciousness from the soul. However, Locke acknowledges that we have no knowledge of substance as such, even though all knowledge implies substance (matter and soul) as the origin of the two kinds of simple ideas--from which all complex ideas are formed. Locke's philosophy is homologous to the masculine logic. Substance is the exception.

Hume in a nutshell: Hume is Locke without the notion of substance. What Locke calls 'simple ideas,' Hume calls 'impressions.' What Locke calls 'complex ideas,' Hume calls 'ideas.' Hume argues that the word 'substance' is a word with no meaning, since we have no impression of substance as such. All our knowledge then, is restricted to impressions and the ideas which are faint, weak copies of impressions. Hume's thinking here is homologous to the feminine logic.

3. Kant put simply: Kant distinguishes between phenomena (things-for-us, appearances) and noumena (things-in-themselves). Knowledge is of phenomena (appearances), we have no knowledge of the thing-in-itself which lies behind or beyond the appearance. However, we must presuppose it, especially regarding moral choices, since the phenomenal self is determined, while the noumenal self is free. Kant's philosophy is homologous to the masculine logic. The thing-in-itself is the exception.

Hegel in a nutshell: Hegel is like Kant without the noumena. Appearances are all there is, even though these appearances are incomplete and/or inconsistent with one another. This is homologous to the feminine logic.

4. The relativity of motion. You are standing on a train, and you drop a coin. From your frame of reference, the coin drops approximately 27 inches in a straight-line segment from your hand towards the center of the earth. Now imagine a viewer on the station platform watching through the windows of the train as it speeds past the station at ninety miles per hour. The observer sees the coin leave your hand, and travel forward at ninety miles per hour in the time between when it leaves your hand and when it hits the floor of the train. So the coin actually moved significantly farther than 27 inches, and its path was a forward, downward-sloping curve. Now imagine an observer situated above the surface of the earth. From this frame of reference, the coin not only travels forward as it falls with the movement of the train. In addition, it also travels through space at approximately 1,000 miles per hour with the rotation of the earth. The coin then, moves significantly further than in the previous frame of reference, and the path of its motion is 'twisted' by the earth's rotation. Similarly, there are other, 'broader' frames of reference: the earth also revolves at enormous speed around the sun; the sun revolves at an even greater speed around the center of the milky way galaxy; the galaxy revolves around the center of the cluster of galaxies; the cluster revolves around the center of the supercluster, and the supercluster itself moves. The masculine logic is exemplified if we imagine that there must be some definite, 'true' distance and path of the coin's motion. This unknowable absolute distance and path of motion is the exception that is constituive of all the 'perspectival' descriptions of the coin's motion from the various frames of reference. The definite, 'true' motion is the exception.

The feminine logic in relation to this same example is simply the 'universal perspectivism' of accepting all of the descriptions of the motion from the various frames of reference, while denying the meaning of any definite, 'true' distance and path that somehow exists behind or beyond the various perspectives.

In each of the above 4 examples, the Real is nothing but the difference between the masculine logic and the feminine logic.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lacanian Definitions

With acknowledgements to Introducing Lacan, written by Darian Leader and illustrated by Judy Groves (Cambridge, UK: Icon Books, 2005).

the subject--the split subject, the divided subject. The subject is a positioning in relation to the Other, a stance adopted with respect to the Other's desire. Whereas the ego is imaginary, the subject is linked to the symbolic. It is divided by the rules of language to which it is subordinate, and split insofar as it does not know what it wants. The divided subject emerges in moments of bungled actions and slips of the tongue. Prior to his symbolic externalization, the subject cannot be said to be 'inexpressible,' since the medium of expression itself is not yet given.
the subject of the enunciation--the one doing the enunciating.
the subject of the enunciated--the subject of the content.
death drive--the subject before subjectivization. Death drive is something like autonomy, or the negativity that is the abyss of freedom.
the Father--the Oedipal function of the Father is as a symbolic function, less a person than a place, which is responsible for separation from the mother. The paternal operation (the Name or 'No!' of the Father) destroys the child's game of trying to be the phallus for the mother. A father becomes Father 'as such,' the bearer of symbolic authority, only insofar as he assumes his 'castration,' the difference between himself in the immediate reality of his being and the place in the symbolic structure which guarantees his symbolic authority: the Father's authority is radically 'decentred' with regard to father as flesh-and-blood person; it is the anonymous symbolic law which speaks through him.
the Name of the Father--this is the symbolic operation that separates mother from child. By her speech the mother situates a reference to something she desires that is beyond the capacity of the child to realize. Castration is the symbolic dimension of the Name of the Father that leads the child to renounce the attempt to be the phallus for the mother.
castration complex--the renunciation of the sustained attempt to be the phallus for the mother. Neurotics are people who have not committed themselves to this renunciation. The child tries to be the phallus for the mother. A boy's use of the penis must involve the acceptance of the fact that there is a symbolic phallus always beyond him. A boy can accept having the phallus insofar as he accepts that having is based on a prior not-having. A girl can accept not having the phallus only insofar as the original phallic identification with her mother is renounced. "Symbolic castration" is the gap between my role in the Symbolic register and the Real, contingent me. Symbolic castration involves the loss of jouissance (pleasure-in-pain) that comes with our entry into language and the symbolic order. Symbolic castration is another name for that which separates us from the Real.
desire--desire is barred from consciousness, unlike a want or a wish. Desire is the process of distortion which turns a wish into some particular image or detail. There is no desire without language. Desire consists of linguistic mechanisms that twist and distort certain elements into others. Desire is a force at work between signifiers. Desire is the essence of the human subject. Desire is the Other's desire. The desire of the Other is a burning question for the child. When the child confronts the enigmatic desire of the Other, it feels unbearable anxiety, since it does not know what the Other wants. Even if the paternal metaphor provides an answer to the burning question with the signification of the phallus, the child must still face the question of its own existence: 'What am I for the Other?' There is a progression from need to demand and then to desire. When the motherer cannot meet the child's impossible demands, the child's dependence on the mother can be overcome. The child must realize that it has desire that does not depend on the mother. When the mother cannot satisfy all of the child's impossible demands, the child is able to begin identifying its own desire. The child's frustrated demands give birth to the child's desire. In this sense, desire is the overcoming of demand.
need--need is primarily physiological, such as the need for food or for shelter. Need can be temporarily eliminated. When it comes to needs, people are similar to animals that do not speak. A newborn infant is in a state of need. Because compared to other animals humans are born biologically premature, they would die without a motherer who tends to their needs.
demand--demand is unsatisfiable. Ultimately it is the demand for love. It is a continuing spiral. Whereas desire is related to specific conditions (as in a fetish), demand is unconditional. The child demands love from its mother. Demands the parents make upon the child include things like 'Eat!' and 'Shit!' After the initial phase of need in infancy, there is a progression from need to demand to desire. A child who demands particular things from its mother will soon afterward demand something else. The child is demanding an object that does not really exist, since he is demanding something that finally will not be given. The child demands until it learns that the mother cannot meet all of its demands. The child demands the impossible (proof of love) in order to separate from the mother. The barred subject in relation to the demands of the parents constitutes the drive. Drives are partial and are tied to specific parts of the body's surface. The drive is not biological like need. The drive is generated by the demands the parents make upon the child ('Eat!', 'Shit!').
the phallus--the object of the mother's desire. That beyond the child towards which the mother's desire is directed. The child tries to be the phallus for the mother. The phallus signifies desire and what we do not have, what is lacking. The phallus is the way the unconscious represents loss. The phallus is the penis plus the idea of lack or absence. It is what one searches for in the mother. The phallus is never 'there' in anyone's experience. The phallus is like a screen or a veil.
the big Other--the Lacanian big Other is the intersubjective, symbolic network which desires for us, and on whose behalf we desire. The big Other is the set of linguistic elements and their otherness.
fantasy--the imaginary scenario that, by means of its fascinating presence, curtains the lack in the big Other. The fantasy hides the inconsistency of the symbolic order; fantasy masks the fundamental impossibility implied in the very act of symbolization. Fantasy conceals the impossibility of the sexual relationship. Fantasy is the ultimate support of our 'sense of reality.' Fantasy constitutes our desire; fantasy teaches us how to desire.
speech--speech is an act, involving subject and other.
language--language is a structure, a formal system of differences.
repression--repression involves overlooking the Real of our desire. Repression occurs when we believe too much in the social 'reality,' the fragile symbolic web that protects us from the unconscious, from the Real of our desire.
jouissance--anything which is too much for the organism to bear. Jouissance is not 'enjoyment' in the sense of please; it is felt most of the time as suffering. What we experience as suffering is experienced by the unconscious drives as satisfaction. Jouissance is Real; it is outside of symbolization and meaning.
neurotic--neurotics have not accepted symbolic castration. They have not renounced the attempt to be the phallus for the mother. The neurotic wants to be the phallus for the mother. The neurotic privileges demand and hides his desire beneath the imposing presence of demand.
psychosis--in psychosis, the Name of the Father is not repressed, but obliterated. When an element is merely repressed, it returns in one's speech, in the signifying chain, in the symbolic. But when an element is foreclosed, it can't return in the symbolic, because it never existed there; it was rejected or banished. Hence it returns in the Real, e.g., in hallucinations. A psychotic delusion tries to supply the missing signification in the place of the hole opened up by the absence of the Name of the Father. A psychotic delusion gives sense to a menacing, meaningless world. The delusional signification replaces the standard Oedipal one.
superego--superego designates the intrusion of enjoyment (jouissance, not pleasure) into the field of ideology. Superego is the revenge that capitalizes on our guilt--the price we pay for betwraying our desire in the name of the Good. Superego is the necessary inverse or underside of the Ego-Ideal, of the ethical norms founded upon the Good of the community.
symptom--something in mind or body which intrudes into your life to bring you misery. The symptom represents a portion of jouissance which has not been dislodged, and which has come back to disrupt your existence.
ego--the ego is an other. The ego is the site of imaginary identifications. This is not the same as the 'I' of speech. The ego is the place from which we speak.
Ideal-Ego--the image I assume, the other I identify with, the imaginary other.
Ego-Ideal--the Other as desire. The point from which you are looked at. It involves the symbolic register. The Ego-Ideal is the one I think is watching me; the symbolic point which gives me a place (e.g., God).
masculine subject position (masculine sexuation)--universality and its constitutive exception.
feminine subject position (feminine sexuation)--no exception to the set, which renders the set non-all.
sinthome--the element which can serve to bind the three orders of Real, symbolic, and imaginary. The word play in French on 'sinthome' involves references to symptom, Saint, and Saint Thomas.
S1--the master signifier: a signifier with no signified content. A master signifier presents itself as a dead end, a stopping point, a term, word, or phrase that puts an end to discussion. The master signifier is the One, the signifier for which all the others represent the subject.
the four discourses--the Master's discourse, the University discourse, the Analyst's discourse, and the Hysteric's discourse.
the four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis--the unconscious, repetition, the drive, and transference.
the Real--the Real is not a circulating object in the symbolic register. Instead the Real is a remainder, a left-over scrap of the whole operation of entering the symbolic. The Real is that which isn't symbolized, which is excluded from both the imaginary register and the symbolic register. The Real is what is not present in a positive way in 'reality.' The Real is irreducible antagonism, trauma, or paradox.
the graph of desire--from Lacan's 1960 text 'Subversion of the Subject and Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious,' which is maybe the most important text in Lacan's Ecrits.
object a, objet a, objet petit a--the surplus, that elusive make-believe that drives us to change our existence. The cause of desire. An empty form filled out by everyone's desire. The objet petit a is the object that has come into being by being lost. It only operates its fascination on individuals who bear a partial perspective on it. The objet petit a is the object-cause of desire. The object a is a quite ordinary, everyday object that, as soon as it is 'elevated to the status of the Thing,' starts to function as a kind of screen, an empty space on which the subject projects the fantasies that support his desire; it is a surplus of the Real that propels us to narrate again and again our first traumatic encounters with jouissance.
anxiety--the price we pay for the absence of shame. Anxiety occurs not when the object-cause of desire is lacking; it is not the lack of the object that gives rise to anxiety, but, on the contrary, the danger of our getting too close to the object and thus losing the lack itself. Anxiety is brought on by the disappearance of desire.

Socialism in the USA

Socialism: What it is and why we need it

Public forums around the country this fall

The word "socialism" has returned to the mainstream of American political debate. But there are widespread misconceptions about what socialism is--and what it isn't.

Republicans fret that the U.S. is fast becoming a socialist country--with government spending on bank bailouts and Barack Obama's proposed health care reform. But the genuine tradition of "socialism from below" means more than state intervention in the economy.

Socialism is really about the struggle to oppose discrimination in all its forms and to put the needs of working people before corporate profits.

Come to a meeting sponsored by the International Socialist Organization to discuss the idea of socialism--and socialist strategies for changing the world.

Below is a list meetings in cities and towns around the U.S. Check back here for updated information and more listings.


Albany, N.Y. | September 17, 7:30 p.m.
University of Albany Uptown Campus, Campus Center. Contact or 518-677-1046 for more information.

Amherst, Mass. | October 1, 7:30 p.m.
UMass Campus Center. Contact for more information.

Baltimore, Md. | September 30, 7 p.m.
First Unitarian Church, Charles and Franklin Streets. Contact for more information.

College Park, Md. | September 22, 7 p.m.
University of
Maryland-College Park. Contact or 202-903-6906 for more information.

Burlington, Vt. | September 9, 7 p.m.
University of Vermont, Lafayette 302. Contact 914-434-2484 for more information.

Ithaca, N.Y. | September 10, 7:30 p.m.
Cornell University Campus, Willard Straight Hall Music Room. for more information.

New Haven, Ct. | September 9, 7:30 p.m.
Connecticut State University, Engelman Hall, Room A120. Contact 203-645-9473 for more information.

New York City-Barnard/Columbia | September 17, 7:30 p.m.
Columbia University, Hamilton Hall. Contact for more information.

New York City-Hunter College | September 9, 7:15 p.m.
Hunter College, Thomas Hunter 305B. Contact for more information.

New York City-Jackson Heights/Queens | September 23, 7 p.m.
The Diversity Center, 76-11 37th Ave., 2nd Floor. Contact for more information.

New York City-Uptown/CCNY | September 10, 7 p.m.
La Pregunta Cafe, 1528 Amsterdam Ave. Contact for more information.

Providence, R.I. | September 14, 7 p.m.
Rhode Island College, Gaige Hall Room 209. Contact or 401-525-1957 for more information.

Rochester, N.Y. | September 17, 7:30 p.m.
Rochester Institute of Technology Library. Contact or 585-857-4732 for more information.

Washington, D.C. | September 24, 7 p.m.
Location TBD. Contact or 202-903-6906 for more information.


Champaign, Ill. | September 28, 6 p.m.
University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Greg Hall, Room 307. Contact or 217 649-8830 for more information.

Chicago-Loop | September 16, 7 p.m.
DePaul University, Downtown Campus, 1 E. Jackson, 11th Floor, Room 11013 . Contact or 312-771-5699 for more information.

Madison, Wis.-University of Wisconsin | September 10, 7:30 p.m.
University of
Wisconsin, check "Today in the Union" board at Memorial Union for location. Contact 608-358-6822 for more information.

Madison, Wis.-MATC | September 10, 12:30 p.m.
Madison Area Technical College, Truax Campus, Student Lounge. Contact for more information.

Toledo, Ohio | September 3, 7 p.m.
University of
Toledo Student Union, Room 2591. Contact or 330-571-5072 for more information.


Atlanta | September 2, 8 p.m.
Georgia State University, 503 General Classroom Building. Contact or 404-838-7127 for more information.

Austin, Texas | September 10, 7 p.m.
University of Texas, Parlin Hall, Room 201. Contact for more information.

Charlotte, N.C. | September 17, 7:30 p.m.
University of North Carolina, Fretwell Building, Room 121. For more information, go to or call 704-909-9276.

Denton, Texas | September 9, 7 p.m.
University of North Texas, Wooten Hall, Room 121. Contact for more information.

Gainesville, Fla. | September 10, 7 p.m.
University of Florida, Anderson Hall, Room 34. Contact or 352-246-2240 for more information.

Greensboro, N.C. | September 3, 7 p.m.
University of North Carolina-Greensboro, Graham Building, 3rd floor. Contact or 336-312-2918 for more information.

Houston, Texas | September 16, 8 p.m.
University of Houston-Main, University Center, Baltic Room. Contact or 713-560-7227 for more information.


Berkeley, Calif. | September 3, 7 p.m.
University of California-Berkeley, 251 Dwinelle Hall. Contact or 510-316-2781 for more information.

Los Angeles | September 9, 7 p.m.
University of Southern California, Leavey Library Auditorium. Contact or 213-309-2713 for more information.

Oakland, Calif. | September 15, 6 p.m.
Laney College, Student Center, Room TBA. Contact or 510-325-0599 for more information.

Portland, Ore. | September 24, 7 p.m.
Portland State University, Smith Memorial Student Union Room 236. For more information, go to

San Diego | September 25, 6 p.m.
City Heights Recreation Center,
4380 Landis Street (NE Corner of Fairmount and Landis). Contact or 619-865-0621 for more information.

San Francisco-CCSF | September 10, 11 a.m.
City College of
San Francisco, Cloud 122. Contact for more information.

San Francisco-SFSU | September 2, 7 p.m.
State University, Cesar Chavez Student Center, Richard Oakes Multicultural Center. Contact for more information.

Seattle | October 7, 7 p.m.
University of Washington, Gowen Hall, Room 201. For more information, go to

If you'd like to list a fall Socialism meeting or add more information, e-mail