Lacan on the Subject and Object – Tad Delay

The following is an excellent post by Tad Delay picking up on some of the issues we are dealing with in talking of subjects, objects and immanence. Tad is currently a PhD student at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, CA.Image

“Truth is nothing but what knowledge can learn that it knows merely by putting its ignorance to work.”1

Lucas and I have had our share of conversations over the notion of immanence in relation to critical theory and pedagogy. What seems to make for a roadblock in those conversations is some combination of 1) the differences in influences a Husserlian and a Lacanian naturally bring to the table and 2) the sheer amount of gin we consume during those conversations. But after his recent post, I think I am beginning to regarding subjectivity (or inter-subjectivity), and I think my trouble understanding had less to do with an irresolvable difference and more to do with the differing starting points of our respective theorists. So I’m going to start with where that difference might be located—which is our different meanings of subject and object—and I am going to conclude by saying we are not subjects interacting with objects but instead objects interacting with subjects.

Lucas uses the term immanence to describe an irreducible embeddedness of subject and object, all the more so when that object is another subject. He concludes we should examine “one’s existence as verbal, as ‘ ing’ in construction, ‘ -ing’ in-the-world with and as entities(y), constituting the most basic stuff of what we refer to when we talk of ‘discourse.’ As such, critique must be always thought in the face of the imminently human.” As a Lacanian, I say yes to the verbal nature of subjectivity (after all, the phrase the unconscious is structured like a language appears in nearly every essay and all seminars), but I think the big difference in starting points I mentioned comes from my disposition to see subjectivity—the Lacanian subject—as primarily unconscious. There is a wide difference between the totality of the I and the conscious perception of the me.

“The specular relationship with the other…can only reduce to its effective subordination the whole fantasmatization brought to light by analytic experience by interposing itself…between this shy of the Subject and this beyond of the Other, where speech in effect inserts it, insofar as the existences that are grounded in speech are entirely at the mercy of its faith.”2

The difference between the I and the me is described in Lacan’s “L Schema.”3 Two of these positions are (partly) conscious and two are unconscious. And to be clear— because this is almost always obfuscated— the un in unconscious is not a simple negation of conscious the way pre- Freudians and Jungians use the term; conscious is not to unconscious the way that

black is to unblack.4 Unconscious is a phenomenon that insists rather than exists.5 “The unconscious is a concept founded on the trail left by that which operates to constitute the subject. The unconscious is not a species defining the circle of that part of psychical reality which does not have the attribute (or the virtue) of consciousness.”6 In the “L Schema,” S (the subject) and A (big Other) are unconscious, and a’ (ego, the moi that I consciously perceive myself as) and a (the object, or object cause, of desire inasmuch as it enters the imaginary register7) are at least partly conscious. The object of desire is always accidental, never perfectly calculated the way our egos would like to imagine.8 L’objet a is not a “thing” qua actually-existing-thing but instead a structural position that the psyche maps an idea onto, which is why nothing we acquire finally satisfies the drive. These four positions are asymmetrical; think of the Subject as both its own position and that which contains the totality of the other three positions where Autre is the primary actor. And S, if it is properly split into conscious and unconscious ($) as it is in neurotic and perverse individuals, is a projection of the A, the big Other, which Lacan calls the discourse of speech.

This Other shouldn’t be confused with a Jungian collective unconscious, but if I understand Lacan’s intention correctly then there is no clear division between the big Other of the individual and the big Other of the culture creating that individual’s ego. The big Other is purely a function of the symbolic register; like the objet a, the Autre is a phenomenon and a position in the psyche rather than anything that actually exists in the world. It’s worth clarifying, because the big Other is often used as a synonym for God. God is one manifestation of the big Other, as are any number of social expectations, pressures, injunctions, identities, etc., but anytime we name something we are no longer talking about the symbolic big Other but instead are figuring a representation of the Other within the imaginary register. But moving on, analytic therapy is not simply a relation of two egos, one ego seeking help from the other. “…I teach that there are not only two subjects present in the analytic situation, but two subjects each of whom is provided with two objects, the ego and the other, the latter beginning with a lowercase o.”9 Lacan’s most basic matheme for the neurotic subject’s relationship to an object of desire is written as ($<>a).10

“In the unconscious, which is not so much deep as it is inaccessible to conscious scrutiny, it speaks…”11

“Why not look for the image of the ego in shrimp, under the pretext that both acquire a new shell after every molting?”12

In other words, when I perceive that I desire something, my ego (a’) is investing in an object (a) at the behest of unconscious injunctions and/or drives. This process is called cathexis by Freud and is most evident in the transference of love and hate. The stronger the cathexis, the more the ego has identified itself with an ideal and the more that ideal becomes part of the superego. “Over-thinking a relationship/job/conflict/etc.” is what cathexis feels like. There’s more to be said about object-libido and ego-libido (narcissism), but I will leave that aside. So we love and we hate, but we do not always have much of a rational reason explaining why we love or hate. That lack of rationality is because our ego has been directed (sometimes only in part, sometimes

entirely) by the unconscious. Anger is experienced at the imaginary register, but underneath it is “…the failure of an expected correlation between a symbolic order and the response of the real.”13 There is always a significant element of backwards-engineered justification by the time an idea becomes conscious, and this is why psychoanalysis does not locate subjectivity in the system-conscious. You see this backwards-engineering all the time when you discuss a concept with someone whose identity seems to depend on an easily falsifiable and/or completely indefensible position. You can strike down claim after claim (façade of a after a), but nothing changes one’s mind. The ego is actually defending the integrity of the big Other, and the big Other can simply redirect the subject’s ego to attach itself to the next object/idea. In therapy, this is a defense mechanism that gives me an infinite number of justifications to maintain self- sabotaging behavioral patterns. The big Other manifests as a repetition injunction. But this conversation began as a vicissitude of sublimation or repression of a drive, so the thing (with a lower case t, the façade) you are consciously discussing is already a few steps removed from the Thing/objet a of the drive. But every once in a while you stumble onto the conception of a particular a that big Other cannot stabilize itself without, and there is a cascading reaction where a particular form of the big Other looses operative power over the subject. At that point, the argument (or therapy) is over. So this is why Lacan’s goal was to traverse the fantasy, to “pierce through the imaginary dimension which veils the symbolic and confront the analysand’s relations to the Other head on.”14

“It is true that I am incomprehensible… I’m not afraid of people leaving. On the contrary, I am relieved when they leave.”15

So where then am I differing with Lucas? Well at the risk of oversimplifying—indeed, this whole piece is a bit of an oversimplification of Lacan’s schema—Lucas is rightly talking about the embeddedness of subject interacting with objects in order to discuss immanence and intersubjectivity. It’s just that Lacan doesn’t let us talk about subjects interacting with object; instead, I (at least, the me of the I) am an object interacting with subjects. Or further, moi is an object contained by a subject interacting with other objects contained by other subjects, and then this relationship becomes further complicated by group identities (which yields more and more complex conflicts of inter- and intra-group psychopathology). The analyst has to affiliate herself with the healthy part of the subjects ego, or applied differently, we have to realize that our conversations with others present a fiction that amounts to an interaction with only one part (momentarily conscious) of only one register (the imaginary), but we have an infinite depth to us, symbolic and real. At any rate, the moi is not where the Lacanian places the emphasis.

“Desire is what manifests itself in the interval demand excavates just shy of itself, insofar as the subject…brings to light his lack of being with his call to receive the complement of this lack form the Other—assuming that the Other…is also the locus of this lack. What it is thus the Other’s job to provide—and, indeed, it is what he does not have, since he too lacks being—is what is called love, but it is also hate and ignorance.”16

“We need not, in psychoanalysis, broaden people’s minds,”17 but for further reading on topics discussed:

Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality


Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle


Freud, The Ego and the Id


Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis

 Lacan, “Position of the Unconscious” in Écrits

Lacan, “The Freudian Thing” in Écrits

Lacan, “Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’” in Écrits

1 Lacan, Écrits, 675.

2 Lacan, Écrits, 40.

3 Lacan, Écrits, 40.

4 Lacan, Écrits, 704.

5 Read all of Seminar II!

6 Lacan, Écrits, 703.

7 This is a bit oversimplified, and l’objet a has as much (or more, depending on which seminar we draw from) to do with the real as it has to do with the imaginary. It is not the actual object that exists in reality, but reality’s objects become an objet a through all three registers and normally become expressed by the imaginary register. The objet a is the object of a partial drive—all Lacanian drives are partial, all are death drives—and the drive can only reach jouissance by endlessly encircling its object instead of directly acquiring any object. What I am describing here is admittedly a mix of Lacanian drive and Freudian cathexis regarding their shared origin in object-libido. Each use these terms, but Freud might be in more agreement with my use of the terms here than would Lacan.

8 Lacan, The Triumph of Religion, 46.

9 Lacan, Écrits, 357.

10 Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 99.

11 Lacan, Écrits, 364.

12 Lacan, Ecrits, 217

13 Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 103.

14 Fink, A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis, 35.

15 Lacan, The Triumph of Religion, 83, 85.

16 Lacan, Écrits, 524.

17 Lacan, Écrits, 305.

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