Commentaries, Contemplation

On Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Clinical Contexts, Theory, and Practice

“The sufferings of neurosis and psychosis are for us a schooling in the passions of the soul, just as the beam of the psychoanalytic scales, when we calculate the tilt of its threat to entire communities, provides us with an indication of the deadening of the passions in society.” —Jacques Lacan

Today, we are going to take a different turn to how I have been approaching psychoanalysis and pedagogy. In nearly all my other writings, I’ve been introducing you to the fundamentals of psychoanalysis through common everyday examples. Here, I will show you how desire, love, Other, and transference, plays a fundamental role in clinical psychoanalysis. I will give you an idea on how psychoanalysis works under a clinical setting and show you why “talk therapy” involves much more than just talking.

I will introduce the famous “Freudian slip” and the symptoms of obsessive neurosis, hysteria and show you how they operate in opposing ways at a fundamental level. Finally, we will also look at two critical discourses of Lacanian psychoanalysis: the hysteric and the analyst discourse. This means we will get to interpret more of Lacan’s crazy graphs together. ūüė≤

As usual, this post assumes you read my other Lacanian writings that are hyperlinked here: Part I, II, III, and IV. I will be making a new menu on this site that consists of all my writings on Lacanian psychoanalysis.

Happy reading split subjects!

The Freudian Slip and Half-Said

‚ÄúThere are no mistakes.‚ÄĚ —Sigmund Freud

In Part I, I introduced the fundamentals on how the human subject is always split and divided by the symbolic Other. As the child recognizes themselves in the mirror, they begin to form wholeness in their identity and who they are. This assemblage is castrated and split by the laws and desires that their parental figures imposes on them which transforms into the child’s Other.

Once the child learns to speak, they learn to give up (repress) certain desires that are forbidden as they grow up. They become a split subject through the effects of the symbolic Other, where everything they say consists of a repressed thoughts. emotions, and feelings that goes missing through the words that they say. Often times, the Other can take many forms, which begins with the patient’s parents, all the way to their work, friends, and things like the news and social media.

In the same way that when we love someone, we are unconsciously in love with someone else, when we express our desires through our words, we are also desiring for something else. The meanings that we intend actually means something else that are unconscious to us due to repression. The fixation to the cause of desire are human attempts to sustain their desires for something or someone else. Human communication is messy in that we do not mean what we say at an unconscious level. Further more, the interpretations of our own and other people’s words are also warped by our unconscious desires and projections.

The idea that something is always missing and repressed when we speak is what Lacan refers as “half-said”.¬†In a clinical setting, everything that the patient says are only half said, where their conscious thoughts are produced through the articulation of symbolic words, as their repressed experience goes missing (the +1 and -1 that I spoke about in Part I). Since everything is always half-said, it would make sense to say that, the general goal of psychoanalysis is to draw the patient’s attention to what is not said. As a split subject, one does not simply use language to articulate their thoughts. Rather, it is language that speaks through us and alienates us from what is not said.

Hence, it is fair to say that people don’t say what they mean. In fact, the things people say often means something else that they are entirely unconscious of. This is largely due to the result of repression where unconscious affects are attached to conscious thoughts and memories, revealing itself only in fragments. This can happen anytime when the neurotic talks about their thoughts, dreams, and fantasies. The desire, love, and demands that are reflected off words turns out to be a desire for something or someone else. There is always some form of ambiguity that is left in our daily spoken words that neurotics are unaware of due to the experience of repression.

This leads us to Freud’s famous idea called, the “slip of the tongue” or simply, “the Freudian slip” where people accidently says something that they did not consciously mean. It is the point where fragments of unconscious thoughts briefly surfaces into consciousness. Hence, Freud thinks there are no “accidents” when we speak. What we perceive as accidents in our words and meanings are slips of the tongue that are worthy of interrogation.

In a clinical setting, these slips happens quite often, but not in the way most people think—such as when someone says “French Fries”, they actually meant their “mother”, as some might put it.¬† It is through speaking and analyzing these accidents where humans produces truths and interpretations about their unconscious mind. Truths are discovered and produced through what we believe to be errors in our conscious thoughts. In psychoanalysis, there is no such thing as coincidence. Error produces truth.

This idea of half-said and slips of the tongue can be seen in most people’s childhood when our parents makes demands and desires which sets expectations for us in the house. Parents will often tell you what they desire and demand from you. And in order for us to be liked by the Other, we conform to their desires. We desire what they desire because our desires is the Other’s desire. Yet ironically, you may notice how parents will only tell you the things that they do not want from you rather than what they truly want. At times, they might not even tell you, but simply punish you after you had already committed wrongful gestures. As a result, the child is often left wondering: “What does the Other want?” (Che Vuoi?; I spoke about this in Part II).

The child produces a fantasy to what the Other wants who may become said desire, even if it is a misrecognition which leads them away from what they unconsciously desire (their repression). The child may eventually come to realize that people do not mean what they say. And what a parent declares as their desires, such as the expectations for the child, is a desire for something else. For example, a parent can tell their child to become a doctor when they grow up, even when it can mean something else entirely (Part II)—such as the parent’s desire for you to become what they had always failed to be when they were young. Or they may tell you to not become who they wanted to be because they had always failed to become said person. They want you to be an ordinary person who is capable of surviving in the world, and not an extraordinary person who inspires change. They want you to fit into their future plans and somehow accommodate them instead of serving what you truly desire.

People often abide to the Other’s desires without consciously recognizing what they truly desire. This is the primary symptom of a neurotic, for it is what defines repression. The Other or super-ego sets the stage for repression of the split subject by forcing them to pass through it like a filter. Certainly, psychoanalysis involves helping the analysand discover what they truly desire—such as what is not said in their daily spoken words.

Nonetheless, the enigmas of the parent’s demands and desires are often left unresolved by the child which tends to spring up in their adult life through different ways, from their dreams, fantasies, and conscious thoughts. This idea is known as the “return of the repressed” and is incredibly important for us to understand, for it is usually within the patient’s childhood experiences that leads to their symptoms in adult life. The adult patient transfers these values, desires, and demands, and competition with siblings¬† onto their future relationships without knowing due to the experience of repression and half-said. The more the child abides to the Other’s desires, the less they will satisfy themselves and the stronger these repressions will become. The more the split subject reinforce their conscious thoughts (ego), the further away they are from the truth of their unconscious desires.

The Opening of the Unconscious Mind

‚ÄúNeurosis is the inability to tolerate ambiguity.‚ÄĚ —Sigmund Freud

One of the things that we can take away from the phenomena of half-said 0r the slip of the tongue is the idea that the things we say is never what we really mean. Or as we will later see, the things that people desire is not what they truly desire. No doubt, this has to do with the effects of the symbolic and repression. We will gradually gain a clearer picture on how this type of repression takes place.

During a session, it isn’t so much about what the patient meant to say than what they actually said during the session. Often times, when we consciously become aware of the things that we mistakenly said, we would immediately correct it. The thought of, “What I really meant was…”, implies their consciousness trying to correct their slips of the tongue. When the patient attempts to correct what they said, they are resisting their unconscious mind to surface as they deny the ambiguities to their thoughts. They are neglecting that perhaps, what they said actually means something else other than what they think they meant through their consciousness. The errors and the things the patient says reveals truths about their unconscious mind.

On the surface, it may seem like the analyst just sits there and sponges up whatever the patient says to them. The analyst is not a passive listener. Near the beginning stages of all clinical sessions which can take up to 1 to 2 years, the goal is to produce the proper space for the analysand to desire and doubt their conscious thoughts.

This is achieved through the way the analyst articulates their words by always leaving something left for the analysand to desire. Just as the meanings of words spoken by a politician is determined by their political oppositions, media, and the masses. The meanings of the analysand’s words during a session is also often determined by the analyst, simply because they are the “subject supposed to know”; the person who is supposed to know all the solutions to the patient’s symptoms. This is why the analyst must pay extra attention to what they tell the patient. When the patient speaks, it is the analyst’s job to redirect and reflect their attention to the things they say. The analyst must make space for the patient to question their conscious thoughts, Freudian slips, projections, transferences, fantasies, dreams, desires and where they come from.

In the early stages of psychoanalysis, analysts will avoid closing off interpretation and meaning to the things the patient says. Instead, they will speak and respond to the patient in ways where their words are left ambiguous. One of the ways the analyst achieves this is by offering suggestions, possibility and ambiguity to a variety of meanings in the patient’s words. Other times, it can be a simple way of wording something through the clever use of punctuation. Another way is the famous Lacanian method where the analyst cuts the session short in an attempt to interrupt the symptoms that the analyst sees in the patient. While it may seem like a waste of money to attend a session only to have the analyst end it prematurely, the goal of this gesture is to make the patient ask, “What was it I said that made them cut my session short?”. The very fact that the patient may begin to suspect and doubt the things they said which led to their short sessions is the main objective of this Lacanian move.

Over time, the analysand will eventually open up their own unconscious mind, prop up their desires, which drives them to explore the ambiguity to their conscious thoughts and words (because everything is half-said). This is a good example as to what I meant when I spoke of how psychoanalysis is about besieging the fortified castle—which amounts to getting the patient to besiege their own conscious thoughts and their social constructs of reality (in Part IV).

The last thing an analyst wants to do at the beginning of psychoanalysis is to give the patient a solid definitive interpretation to the things they say. Not only would this fortify the closure of interpretation and fail to open up the space of the patient’s desire so to analyze their conscious thoughts and Freudian slips, the analyst may also set themselves up as another person (ego) competing with the patient. It is sort of like how siblings might compete for the mother’s attention at a young age.

If for example, the analyst states what they really think (their interpretations of the patient’s words), the patient may take those words as a way to adjust their ego appropriately without affecting their unconscious mind. In this scenario, psychoanalysis is rendered useless where the analyst functions not much different to the patient’s significant other, friends, siblings or parents who asserts certainty of meanings onto them. This can be seen when you see parents who tries to calm their child down after they had a bad dream by helping them interpret its contents. Instead of opening up room for possibilities and interpretation of the child’s unconscious, the parents asserts various meanings on the child’s dream for their ego to adjust to.

The analyst’s job is to never be where the patient thinks. Their job is to be unpredictable so they can arouse the patient’s curiosity and prop up their desires so to make them question their thoughts. By doing this, the analyst becomes the enigma of desire; or precisely, the object cause of desire (will return to this later). Typically, the analyst will begin to know they have become object a for the patient the moment they start talking about having dreams where the analyst is in it.

This is why psychoanalysts will often strike most people as elusive and enigmatic figures—especially during psychotherapy. In the beginning stages, their entire function is to become sort of like a mirror where they redirect projections and transferences that the analysand places on the analyst back towards themselves and make them question and examine these projections, which are usually misrecognitions. As we can begin to see, the psychoanalytic setting is somewhat reminiscent to the mirror stage!

The psychoanalyst’s job is to remain ambiguous who holds the position of the Other. Such position is different to the Other of the patient’s partner, who might not want them to get psychoanalyzed or continues to impose various meanings and interpretations onto them. The analyst must function as the placeholder of the analysand’s love and knowledge. As I mentioned in Part III, the analyst is to temporarily function as the analysand’s “right person”. When achieved, the analyst becomes one of the most powerful positions in psychoanalysis. It is from this position where the analyst can make clinical maneuvers on the patient’s unconscious mind as they project all their transferences onto them under a clinical environment.

One simple example would be from Freud’s most famous patient known as the “Rat Man”. The Rat Man was an obsessive neurotic who had been abused by his father at a young age and always had fantasies and dreams about rats. During one of his sessions, the Rat Man unconsciously transferred his past trauma of his father beating him onto Freud, where Freud took position as the Rat Man’s father without the Rat Man recognizing (just like how our desires warps our perceptions of the other person when we first meet them; see Part III). Instead of Freud responding to him like his father would (to beat him), Freud spoke to him calmly. The Rat Man was surprised (love) that Freud didn’t beat him like his father would.

What we can see here is how the analyst must never conform to the desires, demands, transferences and projections that the analysand imposes onto them. Instead, the analyst must constantly surprise the analysand (love) and show them how these projections that the analysand imposes onto the analyst are their wishful projections and fantasies—a misrecognition that originates from their previous partners or from their childhood.

Nevertheless, it is only when the patient begins to doubt and question their thoughts, desires, and meanings in their half-said words, where they transform from a patient into a psychoanalysand. Once this is achieved, the real psychoanalytic work begins.

Obsessive Neurosis

“Obsessional does not necessarily mean sexual obsession, not even obsession for this, or for that in particular; to be an obsessional means to find oneself caught in a mechanism, in a trap increasingly demanding and endless.”¬† —Jacques Lacan

Obsessive neurotics are most commonly diagnosed in men. They are the type of people who denies and rejects the unconscious mind through the act of thinking. The obsessive’s primary symptom is the repression of the Other where they try to maintain their fantasy of being a complete subject who does not lack.

An obsessive feels most alive when he is thinking in his conscious thoughts. The obsessive wants to be the master of his own house and neglect the unconscious mind and the Other altogether (I am referencing Martin Heidegger’s, “Language is the house of being”). Obsessives don’t recognize how the things they think about comes from an “elsewhere”—namely, their repressions via unconscious mind. This is why you sometimes hear psychoanalysts talk about how their initial objectives for dealing with an obsessive is to “hystericize” them in order to start clinical psychoanalysis. Hence, in Part III, I pointed out how femininity (hysteria) is a dialectic with masculinity (obsessive).

If you attend a course that introduces psychoanalysis, the obsessive neurotic is the person who rejects the existence of the unconscious mind, or the one who thinks that they can solve their own problems by thinking through them without any help from Others. In fact, the more severe the symptoms of an obsessive person is, the more unlikely they will seek for help. Perhaps aside from other social impositions such as gender expectations and gender roles, this is one of the reasons why men are usually the last ones who seeks for mental health support—largely because they are obsessive neurotics who thinks they have everything “under control”, even when this is far from the case. It may also be the reason why the suicide rates of men are significantly higher than women.

Since the main symptom of obsessive neurosis is annihilating the Other, they may for example, avoid seeking for the Other’s presence; such as the psychoanalyst who functions as the “subject supposed to know”. Obsessives are people who refuses to get help from others because they think they can do everything by themselves (they neglect the Other). Thus, an obsessive would be reminiscent to the things most men might say, “Some problems are best kept to myself and dealt with internally”.

The obsessive is the person who represses their unconscious mind by attempting to overcome it through uninterrupted thinking to the point where it almost becomes masturbatory. They often strike others as fiercely independent who does not need anybody in their lives other than themselves. The stereotypical obsessive neurotic are your “self-made” man where they live their life against the Other’s wishes, such as the desires of their parents, lovers, and so on. In fact, the obsessive’s entire life may very well turn into a protest against his parents while nevertheless satisfying their desires in ways that are unconscious to them.

When spoken to, they are the type of people who can talk on and on as if they want to trample over everyone else’s words and the Other’s presence. It might be even better for them to talk to a rock and not to another person (Other) or psychoanalyst, even if that is exactly what they need. In short, obsessives don’t want the Other to intrude their thoughts. They do not want the Other to appear in their conscious mind because they want to become a complete subject who are in control, even when they are always already split subjects. Yet, they never escape the impositions of the Other. In fact, as much as they think they are in control of their thoughts, they are always already succumbing to the Other’s desires without consciously recognizing it. The more they try to annihilate or ignore the Other, the more repressed and alienated they become.

During intercourse, the obsessive may completely negate the Other person by consciously (and unconsciously) fantasizing that they are with someone else or fetishize certain body parts (in the same way that the hysteric will imagine themselves as another woman—I will get to this). They may always want to have the TV turned on, have music on, so to keep the Other at bay. The moment the Other intrudes the obsessive’s mind, they are usurped by the Other’s presence which may lead to impotence (erectile dysfunction). The obsessive must always draw themselves away from the Other via fantasies and imagination in order to sustain his desires. This is why analysts refers to the desire of the obsessive neurotic as “impossibility” (versus the hysteric which is “unsatisfaction”). It is impossible because the moment the obsessive confronts the presence of the Other (i.e. the symbolic filter and their repressions), they are reminded that they are castrated incomplete subjects. Which is the opposite to what they have been trying to convince themselves in their lives, and subsequently shapes their symptoms.

Often times, in order for the obsessive to annihilate the Other, they may set standards for their romantic partners so high that no woman can ever reach. This is why Freud once spoke of two types of women for obsessive neurotics: the Madonna and the mother figure. The former who functions as sexual excitement and object a who cannot be loved but only lust over (for sex and short term relationships), and the latter as someone who he loves and adores as his love object. Hence, the famous Freudian saying that excessive love kills desire, and excessive desire kills love.

In a clinical setting, the obsessive must be “hystericized” where they are forced into the presence of the Other. This is done so to open up the Other’s desires and makes the obsessive ask what the Other wants versus what they truly want. Indeed, the goal is to break through the obsessives’ defensive mechanisms so they become aware that there are ambiguities and alternate meanings and desires to the words they say which has been repressed.¬†


“The hysteric, whose body is transformed into a theatre for forgotten scenes, relives the past, bearing to a lost childhood that survived in suffering.” —Catherine Cl√©ment

Hysteria is most commonly diagnosed in women whose desires are much more complex than an obsessive neurotic. A hysteric is someone who wants to become the Other’s desire where they want to master their knowledge. This idea stems from the hysteric’s youth, on how they want to become the object for their mOther’s desire, as no mother is complete without their child. The hysteric is someone who wants to become what lacks in the Other. They will achieve this by making sure that the Other never gets satisfied because people want what they cannot have.

In reality, the hysteric’s Other is usually their boyfriend, husband, or significant other, who are the ones that expresses their desires; and in their early life, the Other is usually their mother, father, siblings, or caretakers. This is why you will notice how hysterics will often embody their significant Other’s knowledge in some way, where they desire what the Other desire, and knows what they know. The hysteric is someone who needs a master (often times, it is an obsessive neurotic)—someone who has power and knowledge that they can achieve mastery over. This idea is often known as the “lack for the Other’s knowledge”.

While this widely varies between individuals, the stereotypical hysteric might appear as someone who always needs to be with someone, or they always need to be in a relationship, to have a bestfriend, and so on. A hysteric always wants to be in the Other’s presence because they want to become the Other’s desire in ways that they are unconscious of. They want to be the object cause of desire for the Other (“I am yours!”). And when they do, some of them will show off every facet of their lives and flaunt it on social media, at parties and public spaces so the Other can see. A number of hysterics wants to put on a show for the Other. This is why they often take pleasure in occupations where attention is drawn to themselves where they try to keep the Other unsatisfied by becoming their lack.

Indeed, one of the major symptoms of hysteria is their strategy to deprive the Other of satisfaction so to maintain themselves as the object cause of desire. Perhaps the most common example would be to deny sex; or to make themselves as unattainable object of desire because people want what they cannot have. In many occasions, the way the hysteric becomes the object for the Other may allude to how their mother resembled as an object for their father in childhood. Other times, they may become an object that the father desired for them to become when they grow up. As a result, this may lead the adult hysteric to go after certain types of relationships and select certain partners over others, even if these choices might not be what they truly desire.

This phenomenon can be seen in Bruce Fink’s patient of a woman named Jeanne (a fake name to protect the identity of the real person) where her husband cheated on her and treated her poorly. Jeanne always complained about her husband’s overly protective and unfaithful behaviors, but always refused to divorce him. What she remained unconscious of is how her refusal to divorce her husband and her frustrated relationship with him was due to her transference in the way Jeanne’s mother was treated by her father. In many ways, Jeanne became the object of desire for her mOther (she became her mother) which is why she refused to divorce her husband; in the same way that Jeanne’s mother refused to divorce her father. Jeanne even recalled a time where her father told her how “she is the son he never had”, where she ends up unconsciously spending her entire life to become her father’s son and becomes frustrated in her life for the same reason. Here, we can clearly see how Jeanne is a hysteric who embraced the Other’s desires, respectively of her mother and father’s.

The more the hysteric tries to become the object of the Other’s desire, the more they repress their true desires. As the hysteric attempts to become an object for the Other, they become someone who they are not. Simply put, they become another woman—such as the woman defined by their partner, or the woman set by the standards of society, social media, parents, friends, etc. Just as the more obsessive a man is, the more they repress the Other. The more severe the symptoms of the hysteric, the more they will try to satisfy the Other’s desires, and the more repressed they become. We can recall in Part IV, on the example of the woman who enjoyed sleeping with many men only when she got really drunk. She did so only for her to realize that this was how her father sexually abused her when she was young. The woman became the object of the father’s desire where she transferred said experience into her adult life.

This idea is incredibly important for us to understand, as it brings us into discourses such as women’s liberation and feminism. Though we must keep in mind that psychoanalysts are not trying to be political or oppress women. Many of them are simply describing a common pattern that they observe from all their patients everyday at their jobs. In the quest for becoming the object for the Other, the hysteric will embody and become another woman, such as their partner’s ideal woman. They may even fantasize themselves as another person. Feminists often criticizes this psychoanalytic observation, even when some of them discounts the idea that, since hysterics unconsciously positions themselves to become the Other’s desire, they may even embody the desires of a man where they become one (this idea originates from psychoanalysts Joan Riviere and Earnest Jones who referred to it as “homosexual femininity”). As a result, this leads to the famous question that all hysterics asks: “Am I a man or a woman?”.

We can think of the film, Molly’s Game (based on true story) where Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) produces her underground gambling empire through her desire to “control powerful men”. For much of the film, she does so by mastering the man’s desire and knowledge where she becomes like a man who takes charge. Not only is she the object of desire for other men, she embodies all of the men’s desires as her own. Near the end of the film, it is revealed that her desires are driven by her feelings towards her father and her unconscious recognition that he cheated on her mother. His father, who happens to be a respectable psychoanalyst, analyzes her by providing his interpretation of her unconscious mind that hits the Real. During this scene, he shows what happens when the psychoanalyst intervenes the analysand’s failure to articulate the Real into the Symbolic (i.e. Bloom’s failure to articulate her repression into words on her symptoms). His father’s interpretation of her behaviors reveals as a surprise to Bloom, where she realizes that her desire to have control over powerful men was unconsciously driven by her relationship with her father. Bloom wanted to embody the power and knowledge of her father and rebel against him which sublimated into her desire to have control over powerful men in her life. No doubt, what she had set to achieve in her underground gambling career to control powerful men functioned as a metaphor to have control of her father so he would not cheat on her mother. And it is at this moment where the knot that produced all of her symptoms for much of the film gets untied which “cured” her. During this ending scene, Bloom’s father not only became the “right person”, he became the “right father” who confessed his guilt as to why he treated her the way he did as she grew up. Love cured Bloom’s symptoms.

Unlike obsessives, hysterics are much more open to psychoanalysis and different forms of therapy because the analyst or therapist will function as the hysteric’s Other where they will try to master their desires. Yet, this is what makes them a huge challenge to psychoanalyze. During clinical sessions, the hysteric will try to force the analyst to reveal their knowledge and master their desires. They will attempt to turn the analyst against themselves and win their approval. In other words, the hysteric wants to become the psychoanalyst’s Other (their desires) where they adjust their ego accordingly. This gesture is the complete opposite to what needs to be done in order to relieve the hysteric’s symptoms.

It isn’t about the hysteric who goes to the analyst and asks, “What is wrong with me?” (which is another way for asking, “What do you want?”),¬† in which the analyst might say, “You have X and Y ” where the hysteric may conform to the analyst’s desires. Rather, the analyst’s job is to turn the hysteric around and make them ask themselves, “What do I really want?” and not what the Other wants from them. Hence as I mentioned in Part II, the goal of psychoanalysis is to make the patient ask what the Other wants versus what they want.

Yet ironically, when the hysteric is confronted with said question and are given the freedom to choose, they usually won’t know what they truly want because it has been repressed. And even if they consciously think they know what they desire, it is often the Other’s desire. In this case, the hysteric either tries to produce their own desires and discover what they truly want, or they find another person’s desires to master where they give up on psychotherapy (they give up besieging their fortified castle and forfeits discovering the truth of their desires).

The goal for the psychoanalyst is to turn the hysteric around from the Other’s desires so they can be given a chance to discover what they truly desire. The hysteric must, in some sense, stop receiving knowledge from the Other altogether (i.e. the mother, father, siblings, spouse, friends, social media, psychoanalyst, etc.). Of course in most cases, none of this is trying to suggest that the hysteric should divorce or break up with their significant Other, even if some cases may warrant this, such as the example of Jeanne. Rather, it is to make them realize that all of their conscious choices where they feel like they are “in control” turns out to be predetermined by their tyrannical super-ego (Other) that they are unconscious of. The more they try to unconsciously become the Other’s desire, such as Jeanne trying to become her mother and father’s desire, the worse her repressions become. This is where we start to see what Lacan meant when he said that our desire is the Other’s desire. It is also why I said in Part IV, on how in order for us to desire, we must always be with the wrong person. But if this is the case, how can psychoanalysts relieve the symptoms of the hysteric?

In order to make the hysteric produce the truth of their repressions, they must as what Lacanians would say, change their subjective positions into an analyst position. These so called “positions” are what Lacan famously refers as “discourse” that are illustrated below. They are what Lacan considered as one of his greatest contributions to the field of psychoanalysis, especially the analyst’s discourse.


In the hysteric’s discourse, we see the hysteric as the split subject ($) in the top left who addresses the Other and forces them to reveal their knowledge and desires as defined in the top right as S1 (the master signifier such as the psychoanalyst; in real life, it would be the hysteric’s significant other, parents, etc.). As a result, it produces S2 (knowledge) in the bottom right where the hysteric masters the Other’s knowledge. Meanwhile, you see the hysteric repressing object a in the bottom left corner which resembles the truth of their desires that points to the hysteric, such as the repression of memories and knowledge that causes the hysteric’s desires and symptoms as a split subject.

However, in the analyst’s discourse, the psychoanalyst functions as the object cause of desire (a) in the top left who puts the hysteric or hystericized obsessive neurotic to work in the top right ($). The hysteric or hystericized obsessive is forced into the position of the Other via clinical psychoanalysis as they free associate and analyze the ambiguity of their thoughts (they besiege the fortified castle in their mind). The analyst turns the hysteric around from “What do you want?” (or “What is wrong with me?”),¬† to “What do I want?”. As a result, the hysteric/obsessive produces S1, the master signifier, where the they create new knowledge to the ambiguities of their conscious thoughts that gets unraveled from their unconscious mind. Finally, the psychoanalyst has S2 (knowledge) in the bottom left that they repress as they must always be aware of what they say to the analysand during clinical sessions. Moreover, the analyst must be aware of their own transferences that they project onto the analysand (known as “countertransference”). After all, no analyst should fall in love with their patient, even if their job is to temporarily function as the placeholder of their love and knowledge.

Here, I would like to quickly draw your attention to how each position of the hysteric and analyst discourse are rotated clock-wise by what Lacan refers as the “quarter turn” (it is related to German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel). In Lacanian psychoanalysis, there are a total of five discourses: master, university, hysteric, analyst, and capitalist; the last on this list was only briefly mentioned by Lacan (capitalist discourse), but later expanded by Slavoj Zizek. I won’t speak much further about these discourses today. They are best left for another time.

Quick Summary and Strategies for Neurosis

The neurotic symptoms that I described are quite common in the everyday person. In many cases, they are often seen as normal. These symptoms may also exist in different forms where hysterics will display obsessive traits and vice versa. Yet each individual will carry a fundamental clinical structure and fantasy that drives their symptoms. In Lacanian school, there is no such thing as someone who has a “borderline” personality. They are either one or the other. Often times, when a Lacanian analyst thinks someone is borderline hysteric or obsessive, it is often due to inexperience. This is why diagnosing someone requires a lot of clinical experience and good analytic skills.

To be sure, neurosis cannot be completely cured. This means the hysteric will always be a hysteric, and an obsessive will always be an obsessive. One of the main difference between someone who has gone through a successful analysis and a person who hasn’t is that the former has becomes aware of their symptoms, repressions, and what produces them, whereas the latter who never went into analysis are still unknown to why they do certain things in their lives and suffers from endless impositions of the Other. Once truth and knowledge about their symptoms are gained, it becomes a matter of negotiating with the Other, so to speak.

To quickly summarize. The hysteric is someone who cannot stand talking to no one because they must always have the Other looking at her where they force the Other’s knowledge so they can master their desires. Whereas the obsessive could talk to himself all day where they do not want anyone to take position of the Other. The obsessive uses conscious thoughts to produce an illusion of a complete subject who has full control of their subjectivity by annihilating the Other, even when they are already repressed by the Other’s desires. Whereas the hysteric attempts to become the object cause of desire for the Other as they become another person, even when they are not such person. Yet, what is unique about hysteria is that the hysteric does not only try to achieve mastery of the Other, they also exceed the Other’s desire by overturning their mastery and taking its place. In some ways, the hysteric transgresses beyond the Other.

This is why Lacanians will talk about how masculinity (obsessive neurosis) is a question of “belief”, and femininity (hysteria) is a question of “pretense”. The former believes they have full control of their subjectivity, even when they don’t. And the latter pretends they are another person (the Other’s desire), even when they aren’t said person.

For the sake of formality, let us translate all of this back into Lacanian jargon. Masculinity believes they have the phallic signifier even when they don’t, due to castration (they believe there are no ambiguity to the words they say even when they are full of ambiguities; in other words, they lack the signifier, but represses such lack). Whereas femininity masquerades and pretends to have the phallic signifier, even when they don’t due to castration because they want to become the Other’s desire (they “pretend” to be another woman who is complete, even when they lack). In both cases, they lack the phallic signifier due to castration, but deals with this lack (repression) in opposing ways which as a result, springs up their symptoms. The hysteric wants to overcome the Other by mastering their desires which leads to repression. Whereas the obsessive tries to overcome the Other by annihilating the Other in their conscious thoughts while already serving the Other’s desire. Masculinity or obsessive neurosis achieves this by producing a +1 (phallus) in the signifying chain and denies/represses the -1 (lack). And femininity or hysteria produces the -1 in the signifying chain while pretending to be +1.

In the case of hysteria, the analyst’s strategy is to turn the Other’s desire against the hysteric and force them to discover their unconscious desires. In the latter case, the analyst is to function as the Other and maintain their presence in the obsessive’s mind which brings the Other (their lack; repressions) to the forefront of their minds which “hystericizes” them. The obsessive must always face the analyst’s desires (the Other’s desire) where they become split subjects. As such, hysteria and obsessive neurosis requires the psychoanalyst to take different subjective positions in order to “cure” their symptoms. In both cases, the analyst must function as the object cause of desire within the analysand’s unconscious mind.

This is why analysts will talk about how a successful analysis will always consist of the analysand who feels like they never went through any analysis where they can talk freely. They feel this way because the obstacles, symptoms, projections, and transferences that they had carried into the beginning of their psychoanalytic therapy has been cleared, where the split subject can now function in a much more healthy manner within the social fabric. Essentially, the “cure” for neurosis is to, as Jacques Alain-Miller puts it, “dissolve the Real into the Symbolic”. The goal is to help the analysand articulate the Real and repressed material into spoken words. It is about bringing what is not said into the forefront of their conscious mind and understand how it drives their everyday behaviors and symptoms.

Some of those who reads this might think they can take this knowledge and apply it into their lives to get immediate results. In reality, this entire process from the repressed split subject who doesn’t know what they desire all the way to discovering the truth of their desires takes years and hundreds of clinical sessions. It is important to remember that self-analysis does not work. The unconscious mind cannot be accessed without the position of the Other. You cannot psychoanalyze yourself.

On Error and Truth

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” —Sigmund Freud

In light of what we have learned, we can begin to grasp that clinical psychoanalysis is an unending process which seeks to unravel the depths of the human mind. This is no doubt, something that Lacan once alluded to in some of his seminars. What appears to be memories which faded away from our minds never actually leaves, but will one day appear again that latches onto our conscious thoughts in ways that we never anticipated. There is no such thing as accidents and coincidences when it comes to our mental thoughts and the words we say.

If we take what we learned in conjunction to my previous psychanalytic writings. Perhaps what we can begin to see is how, just as there are no accidents in the words we say, there are also no accidents to those who we come to love in our lives. At times, some may feel compelled to justify their desires for someone. They may even feel compelled to find reasons why they don’t love someone over someone else. This may happen to a point where they hate the Other person. Just as the patient may deny the errors and ambiguity to their words in the beginning of their clinical sessions, our conscious mind may deny and repress our feelings for someone out of fear, transferences, anxiety, and repression. And in our world today, people may even deny real life love encounters in favor for ones that are found online.

While it is true that the encounters of love requires a certain level of contingency where two people runs into each other, it is not by chance that these encounters also happens to be fatal, where the Other shakes the foundation of our existence . We may come to instances where we get a glimpse of eternity in the Other’s eyes; someone who makes our heart race as we blush and stumble over our words like a fool. The Other may inspire new knowledge from our unconscious mind, and offer us solutions and new ways to see the world. Rightfully so, love becomes a surprise par excellence!

Just as there is a reason for our dreams, fantasies, denials, errors, and slips of the tongue, there is a reason why we love certain people in our lives and not others (we can think of the example of Jeanne). Make no mistake, the decision as to who one loves is not something that the split subject has any control over, even if they feel like they have complete control (this is an obsessive trait). For we must remember that humans are not the masters of their own house. In many ways, we do not get to choose who we love in our lives. Love is not a conscious choice. If there are any conclusions that we can come to, it is the idea that the human mind is its own greatest self-deception. As Friedrich Nietzsche would say, there is always some madness in love, but there is always some reason in madness.

For where there is consciousness, there lies the unconscious. And where lies the unconscious, there lies error and truth. In essence, truths are produced through the words and meanings that we unknowingly deny—words that we do not say over what we consciously say. They are produced through articulating memories and experiences that had been repressed deep in our minds to the point of forgetfulness. Luckily, nothing ever gets forgotten. Memories are stored in our unconscious mind that awaits to be found, like searching for a lost key in a dark room.

As many people likes to say, “actions are louder than words”. But perhaps the words from our thoughts aren’t deprived from action. When the meanings and unconscious ambiguity of our words are brought to the forefront of our consciousness, it has the ability to untie the knot to some of our deepest wounds, frustrations, and repressions. Words are thus, bound by actions that allows the split subject to produce truth. In this sense, words are much louder, powerful, and profound than actions!

Ultimately, the production of meanings to our unconscious thoughts gives the split subject the knowledge to potentially resolve their daily behaviors and symptoms. It is only by making them verbally recognize their repressions and the truth of their desires, where new actions can rupture from their unconscious mind that may come to change the course of their life.

‚ÄúWords have a magical power. They can bring either the greatest happiness or deepest despair; they can transfer knowledge from teacher to student; words enable the orator to sway his audience and dictate its decisions. Words are capable of arousing the strongest emotions and prompting all men’s actions.‚ÄĚ

Commentaries, Contemplation, Popular Posts

On Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Death Drive, Reality, and Beyond

Last Edited, Feb 03, 2023: I removed some redundant sentences. ūüí©

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“We are what we are because we have been what we have been.” —Sigmund Freud

Today, I will introduce one of the most famous and influential Freudian concept known as the “Death Drive”, or what many people refer as “repetition compulsion”. I will talk about reality, memories, dreams, and give you a glimpse at what the Lacanian “Real” entails. I will revisit major themes from my previous posts on desire, love, along with insights on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, art, poetry, jokes, and why some people are attracted to the “bad boy” or “bad girl” persona. I will offer insights on the unconscious mind and the laws of society with how it drives human conflicts in world history. I will also show you how Lacanian / Freudian psychoanalysis crosses paths with a few other major field of studies such as Immanuel Kant’s transcendental metaphysics, Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction, Jean Baudrillard’s ideas on simulation, and Freudo-Marxism.

This post was written with the assumption that you read my other psychoanalytic writings (Part I, Part II, and Part III hyperlinked). While I don’t think it is as stylish as Part III which talks about love, a decent chunk of this post are outtakes from it. So don’t be surprised if you see themes in here that are reminiscent to Part III.

Please fasten your seatbelts, as Bobby is about to take you from love and desire, all the way to the darkest side of humanity.ūüíÄ

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Reality and Real

“Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned parts of their narcissism”.

—Sigmund Freud

In Part I, I introduced the relationship between the split subject who perceives everything in the world like a mirror as they get mediated through the symbolic Other. Subjects and objects functions as mirror reflection to parts of who they are as human beings. For Freud, everyone is a narcissist where we are self-obsessed as we try to satisfy our pleasures (sometimes known as the ego-libido). To love is to become humble and pawn parts of our narcssisism for our beloved. In Lacanian terms, to love someone is to become the split subject where we establish a relationship with our beloved through the mediation of the Other. The act of loving someone is to unconsciously locate our wound or lack (castration; split subjectivity) in the other person where love is not about sameness (our narcssisism and projections), but difference.

Freud once famously asserted that there were three instances in human history which highlighted the humility of humanity, where humans dealt a significant blow to their narcissisms and defeated humanity’s significance in the universe. The first instance was Nicholai Copernicus who, during a time where everyone believed the Earth was at the center of the universe, discovered that it was just a planet orbiting around the Sun which happens to be one star among trillions more. The existence of Earth is insignificant in our cosmos. The second instance was Charles Darwin, who showed us how we are not even that special on Earth, but are simply evolved animals. The third instance was Freud himself (talk about narcissism). Not only are we not special on a planet that is not at the center of the universe, we are not the masters of our conscious mind. As sentient beings, we are controlled by the unconscious mind where we are driven by the pleasure principle and death drive which gives us the urge to compulsively repeat certain behaviors over the course of our lives. Civilization, as Freud said, began when “an angry person cast a word instead of a rock”, where the unconscious mind was born.

In my previous posts, I mentioned how the split subject is always trying to capture something from the Real that always escape their conscious grasp (object a). Such as the man who repeatedly treated his girlfriends in the same way was trying to recapture the way his father treated his mother when he was a child. The effects of being unconscious to what one tries to recapture through transference is due to the influence of the symbolic Other and how it imposes laws onto the split subject. The way speaking subjects are mediated through the discourse of the Other conceals the Real through misrecognitions, censorships, errors, and wishful projections that consciously reveals as our desires which warps our perceptions of reality.

To psychoanalyze is to besiege a fortified castle where one attempts to discover what lies behind the walls that are erected by the Other and our mind’s defensive mechanisms which conceals the Real. The goal is to figure out what the subject unconsciously desires versus what the Other desires from them. It is to figure out the Real of their desires; or the truth of their desires. Ultimately, one can say that psychoanalysis attempts to resolve the analysand’s problems that are found in their unconscious transference(s) that gets mediated through the Other because one must always experience the world through the language of the Other (we must conform to laws of society, etc.). As split subjects, one is always mediated through language where the Real is the point where no symbolic or imagination can represent. While we can use symbolic language to describe the Real or imagine what the Real consists of, the absoluteness of the Real resists both symbolic and imaginary. Lacan once described the Real as “the absence of absence”: the absence of the symbolic and imagination of the word “absence”.

Thus, the first rule of the Real is that you cannot talk about or imagine the Real. The Real is also not the same as our everyday experience of reality. Many people tend to think that reality always appear as they see it. Just as our interpretation of reality and other people can be influenced by our bias, history, and other contextual and temporal frameworks, in psychoanalysis, reality is constructed through the symbolic and imaginary which gets influenced by the Real (i.e. our unconscious desires). No matter how “real” someone thinks they can be (“Get real!”), or how real they think they perceive reality, it is always filtered through the split subject’s symbolic and imaginary relations. And what produces the shapes of the symbolic and imaginary—such as the different narratives which shapes our reality and who we are—is the Real, where object a causes our desires to produce various censored meanings and interpretations of reality. This is why touching the Real can affect how we perceive reality. It is by re-establishing our relationship with the Real which changes the shapes of the symbolic and imaginary (the fantasies, narratives and stories that we use to narrate reality and ourselves). Since the split subject is always mediated through symbolic language and the laws of the Other, reality is never quite Real.

One can perhaps, think of those who believes that the news are fabricated and prefers a reality that they think is more real. While no news are accurate in representing reality, it is often much more comforting for people to stay in their symbolic representation of reality than having it shattered by knowledge that might not always fit their narratives and perspectives. Perhaps those who sees all news as inaccurate news are not much different to those who believes that all news are real. In both cases, the Real is concealed by the symbolic narratives of the individual or the information of the news which produces and influences their perceptions of reality as such. Not only is this where we see interdisciplinary relationships with Jean Baudrillard’s famous ideas on simulation, where reality becomes more real than real, it is also where we see how contemporary media, internet, and other forms of digital mediums becomes a simulation of reality where such mediums functions as the Other that usurps and controls the fantasies of the subject and their perceptions (I wrote about Baudrillard here).

I would like to digress for a moment to offer some contextual background on this Lacanian point of view of the Real (I spoke about this in some of my other posts). The idea that reality is never Real was influenced by the history of philosophy, particularly 18th century German idealist philosopher Immanuel Kant, who was renown for the idea that humans can never know anything in itself. Kant argues that humans can only experience the phenomenon of objects via intuitions of space and time, but never the object in it-self (noumenon). We can only experience the world from our first person perspective where we can never experience from the perspective of water, or the perspective of the other person that we are talking to. While one cannot know anything in-itself, it is through this limit which allow humans to manipulate objects. If I know water is made up of H2O, I can manipulate its properties and produce something else from it. To claim that water consists of H2O is to, in some sense, idealize the properties of water. This procedure is famously known as “transcendental idealism”. In such case, the transcendental subject sets the limits to all human knowledge within various branches of metaphysics and phenomenology for the last two centuries. What I presented here, is one of the most powerful and influential argument found in German idealism where such experience of human subjectivity became one of the greatest mysteries of the mind that even neuroscientists struggle to explain. Human experience is fundamentally finite in that two people may subjectively experience the color of the blue sky differently, even if they both objectively agree that the sky is blue. We can’t know for sure because we can never know anything in itself.

In many ways, the Real and object a resembles the Kantian thing-in-itself where one’s conscious mind can never fully grasp. Such impossibility of knowing anything in-itself is reminiscent to how I introduced the Lacanian mirror stage where everything in the world is a reflection of who we are. The other (person that we talk and relate to) is a reflection of our ego and desires where we often transfer and project past emotions, experiences and meanings onto them (a form of misrecognition). Reality is never quite real in the sense that humans are sometimes caught in their Imaginary (narcissism) where they might, for example, mistake someone’s friendliness as romantic interest as they project their desires onto them.

Finally, Lacan famously points out that, “There is no sexual relationship” partly because we can never know anything in-itself. We are never the other person. This is a more philosophical way where we can talk about why love is about difference which involves our attempts at traversing our own finitude of always getting caught in our own perspective. Another way we can interpret this Lacanian passage is to recognize how sexual difference represents the impossibility of representing the Real. As a result, this produces what our cultures refer as “masculine” and “feminine” identities as symptoms; or as whatever gender people identify as. In psychoanalysis, sexuality is the wound on how the subject gets split. Whereas to love, is to unconsciously locate this split/wound (castration) in the other person.

Metaphor and Metonymy

“To try to write love is to confront the muck of language; that region of hysteria where language is both too much and too little, excessive and impoverished.”

‚ÄúThe text you write must prove to me that it desires me. This proof exists: it is writing. Writing is the science of the various blisses of language, its Kama Sutra.”

—Roland Barthes

Since the split subject always unconsciously conceals the Real through their symbolic, its effects can be witnessed through the subject’s relationship with language which takes position as their perceptive experiences of everything in the world (i.e. we think, interpret, and perceive the world through language where we use words to describe our perceptions and emotions). As a result, it produces the movements of metaphor and metonymy which relates to the ways reality and dreams are experienced by the split subject. Let us together, slowly move through a few small passages by Lacan:

“What is at issue is to refind—in the laws that govern this other scene, which Freud, on the subject of dreams, designates as the scene of the unconscious—the effects that are discovered at the level of the chain of materially unstable elements that constitutes language: effects that are determined by the double play of combination and substitution in the signifier, according to the two axes for generating the signified, metonymy and metaphor; effects that are determinant in instituting the subject.”

To paraphrase, the goal for Lacan, is to find the “other scene” which Freud discovers in the split subject who dreams. Lacan assigns the effects of the unconscious mind within the instabilities of language which mediates the split subject. This instability is witnessed by what Lacan refers as metaphor and metonymy which institutes the split subject (the two terms respectively translates to Freud’s concepts of condensation and displacement). In regards to desire, Lacan writes:

“And the enigmas that desire—with its frenzy mimicking the gulf of infinite and the secret collusion whereby it envelops the pleasure of knowing and of dominating in jouissance—poses for any sort of “natural philosophy” are based on no other derangement of instinct than the fact that it is caught in the rails of metonymy, eternally extending toward the desire for something else. Hence its “perverse” fixation at the very point of suspension of the signifying chain at which the screen-memory is immobilized and the fascinating image of the fetish becomes frozen”.

Here, Lacan points out how desire is constantly deferred through the extension for something else where words and meanings gets displaced (this is similar to my first post where I spoke about the +1 and -1 where lack is always concealed by next words in sentences). These displaced meanings are unconscious to the speaking subject, but is something that the Lacanian analyst tries to identify in the analysand. Our desire for certain things or people in our lives is actually a desire for something/someone else that is unconscious to us who are displaced, warped, and censored by the Other.

Meanwhile, Lacan points out how perversion arises when the split subject fixates on certain objects or signifiers through their screened memories (will get to this later). The idea of perversion relates back to Freud who thinks sexuality is perverse in that parts of it is fetishistic in nature. This is most prominently seen in masculine desire, where men tend to fixate on certain signifiers and objects—such as specific parts of a woman’s body. One part of masculine desire is characterized by fetishism in that they get sexually aroused through symbolic language and signifiers (body parts, pieces of clothing, tattoos, etc.). In order for a man or anyone to declare their love for someone, they must in a certain sense, give up parts of their desires and become feminine. They must pawn parts of their narcissistic object relations (ego-libido) for the person they love. Before we move on, let us take a look at what Lacan writes about metaphor:

Metaphor’s two-stage mechanism is the very mechanism by which symptoms in the analytic sense, are determined. Between the enigmatic signifier of sexual trauma and the term it comes to replace in a current signifying chain, a spark flies that fixes in a symptom—a metaphor in which flesh or function is taken as a signifying element—the signification, that is inaccessible to the conscious subject, by which the symptom may be dissolved”.

Where metonymy and desire displaces meanings and words or objects, metaphor replaces various signifiers for other signifiers; or the replacement of objects for other objects in real life (i.e. the mother for the wife, ex-boyfriend for new boyfriend, etc.). The metaphorical signifier conceals the trauma (Real) which functions as the truth of the split subject’s symptoms (desires) and has the ability to dissolve it. This may sound familiar to Part III on how I pointed out that love has the ability to dissolve our symptoms and halt our repetitive symptoms. This occurance often takes place without the subject realizing it where love gradually changes people.¬†

All of this comes down to the idea that love is metaphor and desire is metonymy. But while love and desire are two sides of the same coin, it is very common for people to mistake desire as love (lust). We can see this when men sometimes seek for women who appears to have the “bad girl” persona. This happens when the woman is unconsciously displaced from the man’s mother, siblings, past lovers, or someone who took care of them during their early life. In such case, the woman will often signify to the man as pure desire who is ready to “break the rules”, even if it may not be the case on the other end. Such woman may unintentionally arouse and provoke the man’s drives where they might actively mistake their desires as love. In fact, it is also common to have both people who mistakes their desires as love. If Lacan is correct that love is always mutual and that love has nothing to do with sex, perhaps when someone declares their love to the other where they happen to not love them back (or “love” them in the same way), then they have mistaken their desires as love. This is another way we can interpret Lacan that is different from my approach in Part III.

Meanwhile, feminine desire can also function similarly which can be recognized through displacing the image of the woman’s father. This is why some women are attracted to the bad boy—a man who treats the woman opposite to their father (with love and care—hopefully). Just like the bad girl, the bad boy often signifies excitement, fun, and lust, who are adventurous and ready to break the rules. In order for anyone to desire, they must always be with the wrong person where they unconsciously displace their family figures or someone from the past who loved them. If they encounter a person who unconsciously resembles to these figures, it would cause them to not simply desire, but produce the effects of love. Desire must always consist of a certain structure of impossibility that the Other prohibits where the subject can only be partially satisfied which produces its effects—just like people who listens to their favourite songs on repeat (from Part II). Yet, there are many instances where people will have a tendency to satisfy their desires by transgressing the law (i.e. neurotics, which we all are in some ways). Hence the appeal of bad girl or bad boy who appears to be ready to break laws.

This brings up interesting thoughts on how we live in a culture that is obsessed with pornography which often consists of scenes and fantasies that breaks the rules of everyday life. Similar things can be seen in films, video games, literature, all the way to your favourite “reality” TV shows (as Baudrillard might say, the characteristics of pornography is everywhere in our digital world). Reality TV is never real because they perpetuate an ideological fantasy that may usurp and control the viewers where they impose such fantasies onto their own lives (in this sense, reality TV is more real than real; it is a simulation of reality). All of these can be seen as examples of different forms of sublimations where the split subject attempts to turn an inappropriate fantasy, idea, or impulse into something that is socially acceptable so to conform to the laws of the Other. Furthermore, one can also think of dark jokes, sex jokes, racist jokes (any jokes) as common examples of sublimation. When done correctly, sublimations are considered as a healthy way to deal with repressed desires, impulses and trauma. We can think of doctors and nurses who sometimes likes to make dark jokes as a way to relieve their stress from their jobs, where they regularly witness people die.

Nevertheless, we begin to understand what Freud meant when he famously thought how excessive love kills desire, and excessive desire kills love. In the former case, the other person unconsciously resembles to the lover as someone they cannot desire due to love transference and the effects of the Other who prohibits them via laws. In other words, their partner unconsciously resembles too closely to their family figures, or someone who they used to love (where they can no longer be together). This is also one of the reasons why Lacan refers to love as a form of suicide because it diminishes our desires. In some cases, it may even be the case where one person declares their love for the other, where the other person stops desiring them altogether. It is also why love is not about our desires (the ego-libido; Imaginary), but the other person (which relates to the Symbolic Other). Love often arrives when we least expect it; whereas our desires will lead us to look for love in the wrong places.

In the latter case where excessive desire kills love, the split subject’s desire displaces the family figures or whoever loved them in the past onto their partner who may come to represent the movement of pure desire which produces the effects of lust. In such case, love is not suicidal, but gets caught in the subject’s own narcssisism (the Imaginary relationship with their ego-libido). This is where we see things in dating cultures where people “hook-up”, have “flings”, or where they have relationships where they keep things at the level of light fun where they serve their own desires and pleasures. In summary, one either loves the other that unconsciously resembles someone from their past, or one loves someone as they love themselves (narcissism).

The way the split subject relates to the other person is always unconsciously influenced by past relationships due to transference. Yet, since the subject must always pass through the symbolic Other, real love must overcome the individual’s narcissistic tendencies and their desire to satisfy their ego-libido. The conscious recognition of love appears to the split subject as difference (a surprise) due to the effects of their desires and wishful projection that warps, censors, and distance their views of the other person when they first meet them—just like the relationship between reality and Real. Love is not a relationship between two narcissists serving their own pleasures. Love is a form of care and support for the other person. It is about who cleans the toilet and does the dishes. Regardless, in all cases, most relationships is about finding the right balance between the two—which is to love and desire in a healthy way.

Unless the person went through a successful analysis, unconscious transferences that the split subject projects onto their partner are often traumatic and unresolved. Most people will encounter obstacles in their relationships due to transferences from their past relationships with their parents and old partners. The problems between two lovers is the problem of transference on how each individual repeatedly transfers unresolved past experiences and traumas onto the other. It is similar to a person who is in an abusive relationship where their partner repeatedly treats them in the same way over and over again. To be sure, the psychoanalyst’s job does not involve solving the analysand’s relationship issues because they are not a couples therapist. Instead, their job is to dissolve the symptoms of the analysand and resolve their unconscious transferences that they repeatedly and unconsciously project onto their partner. At the end of a successful analysis, the analysand does not need to be told how they should treat their partner correctly (whereas your average therapist will help you set up a plan and tells you to do this or that). Once their unconscious transferences are resolved, the split subject will automatically treat their partner correctly.

Above all else, the metaphorical movement of love is the source for poetic effect (art, poetry, music, etc.). Love is creativity in the making where new metaphors and meanings are produced through the experience of lack or nonmeaning that we locate in the other. Love gives rise to foreignness (otherness) and new possibilities—just like the event of an apple that fell on Newton’s head, or the random encounter of someone who shakes your world. Love is a construction of something new that is original and innovative. It is not a simple reproduction or simulation of the past. We can also conceive of this creativity as how people resolve their differences in a relationship, or how they compromise for each other which produces new ways to live (hence, love is what makes relationships work). Over time, love between two people becomes a work of art where they produce a new life and truth together.

In my last post, you may notice how I intentionally used metaphorical examples through replacement of different examples. I also metaphorically replaced love for infinity which happens to be the theme of the entire piece. Such movement of love is also recognized when Lacan famously proclaimed his “return to Freud” who ended up producing a new school of psychoanalytic thought. Love marks the excess or impossibility of symbolic language which is represented through the experience of lack. As¬†Lacan would say, love is a pebble laughing in the sun!

Dreams, Memories, and Reality

“We never wake up; desire sustain dreams”
—Jacques Lacan

What I’ve been trying to show you is how transference consists of movements between metaphors (love) and metonymy (desire). This weave between metaphor and metonymy is produced by the mediation of the split subject through the Other who imposes laws, prohibition, and censorship. As a result, metaphor and metonymy are symptom formations that is found through the split subject’s articulation of the Other’s language. Such symptoms does not simply affect how we desire, love, and perceive reality, it also affects our dreams. Just as the one who loves experiences the Real of their desires without the tragic dimension, dreamers also at certain points of their dreams, closes in on the Real.

When one dreams, the split subject attempts to satisfy their unconscious desires where its contents are presented as metaphors and metonymy. A good example that some people might relate to is when they have strange dream scenarios that has to do with washrooms, toilets, and water, only for them to wake up realizing that they have to use the washroom. Dreams will often present and conceal our unconscious desires through metaphors and metonymy because our mind is always censored by the symbolic Other. Our mind naturally protects and resists the symbolization and imagination of the Real by concealing it through language. Hence, it is important for Freud that one must interpret dreams during the subject’s waking state and besiege the fortified castle. The Lacanian Real is concealed behind all the nonsensical symbolic metaphors and metonymic movements found within the dream and in our everyday lives because once again, the Other prohibits, filters and censors the split subject who dreams. This is why the things we dream about are not what they appear to be.

Perhaps many of us can recall a time where we woke up from our dreams due to something weird or horror that happened in it—something that you cannot comprehend, interpret, and produce meaning out of in a waking state. It is almost as if your mind runs into a brick wall that resists symbolization and imagination. Well! It is the moment when we jolt awake where we briefly experience the effects of the Real. It represents the traumatic point where your consciousness can no longer comprehend what is happening through the imaginary and symbolic. Your mind’s defensive mechanism kicks in and wakes you up before you experience the Real at full force. As a result, you may sometimes wake up with anxiety due to some horror that happened in the dream (you experience anxiety when you get too close to the Real or object a). The Real resists symbolization and imagination which snaps you awake. And it is because we can longer process the Real in our dreams where we wake up to face “reality”—a reality that is always mediated by the Other via metaphor and metonymy. Simply put, humans face reality because we always fail to confront the Real(ity) of our dreams. We wake up from our dreams just so we can continue dreaming in reality.

Something similar occurs through the way humans recall their childhood memories. In a famous essay called “Screened Memories”, Freud talks about how our childhood memories are often distorted due to defensive mechanisms and the condition of denial. Freud believes that no one really forgets anything in their lives. Our unconscious mind records and stores every living moment as one is always thinking where they do not think they are thinking. Through the discourse of the Other, certain memories and thoughts are permitted to surface into the subject’s consciousness which allows them to recall such memories and articulate it in various ways (the subject gets filtered through the Other). It turns out that memories are also always concealed and distorted through metaphor and metonymy.

Freud uses the mystic writing pad as an example on how memories between our consciousness and unconscious mind works. The mystic writing pad is a children’s toy where a piece of plastic covers a large piece of wax underneath. The child can inscribe markings on the top layer, and once it gets replaced, the writing pad becomes cleared, yet its previous writings are indented in the wax underneath. Over time, more inscriptions (memories) are written and overwritten on this piece of wax (unconscious), yet cannot be accessed by the top layer (consciousness).

The mystic writing pad is important if you are interested in deconstruction because this is where Jacques Derrida talks about the relationship between writing and the unconscious mind in a famous book called Writing and Difference (found in the essay, “Freud and the Scene of Writing”). In it, Derrida argues that writing takes position as our perception before perception can take position as itself where we perceive reality through writing (or language; symbolic). In other words, writing supplements our natural perceptions (like culture supplementing nature which I spoke about in a post found here). There is always a system of knowledge that is written over our perceptions which determines how we interpret reality through—in Lacanian terms—the symbolic and imaginary. This is where we arrive at one of the major intersections between deconstruction and psychoanalysis where the two disciplines are often considered as opposition to each other while also having many striking similarities. One can for example, think of the relationship between how signifiers are constantly displaced and replaced versus how meaning is always produced through the movement of spacetime and differance within the discourse of deconstruction (I introduced Derrida’s major ideas here).

Death Drive and Repetition Compulsion

“The goal of all life is death.”
—Sigmund Freud

In a famous and controversial essay called, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud discovers the death drive through one of his patient who repeatedly dreams about their traumatic experiences from the past (PTSD). As mentioned earlier, it is thought that dreams are a way for the subject to unconsciously satisfy their unattainable and repressed desires so to achieve pleasure (precisely, “the pleasure principle”). Due to our mind’s defensive mechanisms and the discourse of the Other, the contents of the dreams are never what they appear to be. We don’t exactly know what desires we are satisfying because the repressed material is concealed underneath the contents of the dream through metaphor and metonymy—just like how lack is concealed underneath our everyday spoken language (I spoke about this in Part I). But if dreams are a way for the subject to satisfy their repressed desires, why would people dream of their traumatic experiences if it caused them so much pain and suffering? If the contents of our dream is never what they appear to be, could there be an even deeper point of trauma that the split subject cannot perceive (i.e. the Real)? Or could their dreams happen to be much closer to the Real than others? This is where Freud discovers that pain and suffering, in some ways, satisfies our desire for pleasure. It is where we get into sadism and masochism.

Most people associate S&M with kinky things where people enjoy giving and receiving pain in some sexual way. In reality, the themes of S&M is much more broad that can be found at the fundamental level of both sex and death drive. Not only do humans live according to the pleasure principle (i.e. happiness, etc.), Freud thinks humans also unconsciously desire to self-destruct and inflict pain on themselves through their unconscious urge to repeat certain behaviors. Think of our example of the man who unknowingly treats all his girlfriends in the exact same way from my last post (Part III). Did it occur to him that, while he may not consciously enjoy breaking up and treating his girlfriends in whatever way he did, does he unconsciously achieve satisfaction by inflicting pain onto himself by breaking up with them? Is this why he repeats such behaviors? We can also see this in people who are prone to uncontrollable negative thought patterns, where they continuously inflict pain on themselves (often found in people with depression where they don’t have control over them). While modern treatments of such experience involves things like Cognitive Behavior Therapy that attempts to halt these thought patterns, in psychoanalysis, these thoughts are sometimes related to sadism and masochism and the unconscious attempts to satisfy the split subject’s pleasure drives through pain and suffering.¬†

There was a real patient of a woman who enjoyed sleeping with many men only when she got really drunk (if I remember correctly, this patient was from Bruce Fink, a Lacanian analyst). Through psychoanalysis, she discovered that her symptoms was an attempt at recapturing her childhood experience where her father sexually abused her every time he was drunk. Why would anyone want to unconsciously recapture such traumatic experience in their adult life? While most people do not wish to repeat such harmful symptoms during their conscious state and would seek for help, perhaps the reason why they cannot control these repetitive symptoms is because they are not the masters of their conscious mind—just like the person with uncontrollable negative thoughts. In other words, and as disturbing as this may sound, they unconsciously enjoy repeating these symptoms because it causes them suffering which partially satisfies the pleasure principle.

While we may unconsciously repeat many things in our lives, we often enjoy our symptoms even if it causes us pain and may lead to our deaths. Moreover, these examples also shows us how love transference can involve unpleasant traumatic experiences from the past which causes people to experience pain and suffering over and over again. The analyst’s job is to interrupt these repetitive symptoms and create healthier patterns and transferences between their conscious and unconscious mind. We can also put this in context with my last post: why do we take risks to be in love when it may lead to suffering either through overcoming differences or separation? As Freud once famously said, “we are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love, never so helplessly unhappy as when we have lost our loved object or its love”. Yet, many of us will often choose to love, even if it may end up hurting us badly.

Think of people who smokes knowing that it might give them cancer and kill them, or people who excessively drinks knowing how bad it is for their body. Or someone who knowingly increases his sugar intake despite their diabetes. Think of the players in Squid Game who willingly joins the game while knowing that they will likely die. Or the person who commits infidelity knowing that they will lose the person they love most. In order to desire, there must always be a form of impossibility that is produced by the symbolic law. What difference is there between the Squid Game players, the person who buys lottery tickets, and the social climber who wishes to achieve the American dream? All of their desires carries a certain form of impossibility of breaking the laws of normalcy and becoming obscenely rich, achieving infinite pleasures and having high social status (it consists of the same fundamental principles to people who desires the “bad boy” or “bad girl”). There is always a certain form of impossibility which produces their desires that they want to transgress. The desire for overcoming the Other is one of the symptoms of an obsessional neurotic where they produce healthy or unhealthy unconscious sublimations and transferences.¬†

An interesting way to understand the symptoms of an obsessional neurotic is to think of a man who cheats on their wife. While the neurotic man may think they are consciously in love with the woman who they are having an affair with, they may actually be unconsciously obsessed with overcoming the structure of symbolic law and censorship so to have infinite pleasures or desires with many women (this example is also applicable in reverse).

Essentially, neuroticism involves human attempts to stay in control and keep themselves above the law and the Other at bay—even if the latter is always already here at full force. As a result, the subject produces a fantasy that sustains their desires and conscious beliefs that they are above the law who are in conscious control. It can sometimes be seen in people who tries to hide parts of themselves from the Other due to their insecurities or low-self esteem. One can even think of people who can never stop making inappropriate jokes as part of their unconscious attempts at remaining above the Other’s impositions. While everyone is a neurotic, the goal is to find healthier ways to sublimate these symptoms and desires of the split subject and turn them into something that is socially acceptable, so to speak.

Kant once famously spoke of a scenario where if a man was given a chance to satisfy his desires with the woman of his dreams at the expense of his life, the man would turn it down. After all, if one dies, their desires would end forever. It would make no logical sense that the man would choose to satisfy his desires which leads to his death over following the law which seeks to regulate it—the law which castrates and splits him, producing repression, denials, sublimations and deferral of his desires. Following this scenario, Lacan famously propose the opposite: if a man was given an opportunity to sleep with the woman of his dreams, he will take up on the offer despite his death. Is this what happens with the players who takes part in the squid games? Or the person who has diabetes but continues to have excessive sugar intake?¬†

These are some pedagogical examples of the dialectics of desire and how humans always, in some ways, attempts to override the law due to their repetition compulsions, even if it leads to unhealthy habits, suffering, and their death. Ultimately, it is through these repetitions where we see the death drive in action.

The Libidinal Economy, Desire, and its Radical Overcoming

“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” —Sigmund Freud

The term “Libidinal economy” was most famously used by a French philosopher named Francois Lyotard who published a book with the same name. Such term however, is often thought to be derived from Freud. In general, the term refers to the incorporations of psychoanalytic thought with contemporary economics. The libidinal economy suggests how every economic exchange of consumer goods is an exchange and satisfaction of our pleasures, fetishes, and desires (this is where we get into ideas such as “micro-politics of desire” that Giles Deleuze is famous for). Yet, humans satisfy their desires without reaching its goal because the laws of society (Other) prohibits us from fully being satisfied. As a result, it leads to endless consumerism and content consumption (think of events like Christmas where people go on a consumer frenzy). Our society’s establishment of laws is to regulate our desires while human frustrations might make them transgress these regulations so to satisfy themselves.

Freud believed that deep down, humans don’t really want freedom. The moment humans establish laws so to produce equality and liberty in society (whatever this implies), human unconscious arises which creates all sorts of necrotic tendencies, compulsions, violence, and mental illnesses where they are forced to repress some of their personal desires that the law may prohibit. Freud takes on the position where humans are constantly at war between the laws that they produce in society, versus their animal instincts and desires that they unknowingly repress into their unconscious mind.

Despite all the idealizations of freedom that people fight for in the political arena, our society is perhaps, not as free as what most people think—even if we consciously perceive that we are free to do what we want. The question of freedom isn’t so much about people who can desire what they want in society. Rather, it is about why we desire for the things that we do in society and what makes us desire for such things (this is where we get into things like social control). For one must not forget that, our desire is the Other’s desire. The imposition of the Other is always already unconsciously at work in our minds through language, laws, and censorship which are reinforced by society and other people around us. In this sense, freedom becomes an impossible task and oppression had already existed since the beginning of human civilization, when an angry person casted a word instead of a rock.

This leads to ideas that we can see within the discourse of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the (in)famous inventors of communism and socialism who were well known for their critique on capitalism (a four volume book called, Capital; or Das Kapital in German). Marx saw how, while capitalism appears to be a free market economy, it is actually authoritarianism in disguise where the world is controlled by rich corporations, oligarchs and governments that has the power to influence other countries (known as globalization), manipulate and control people through media, politics, and exploitation of workers. And that ultimately, these corporations has the ability to avoid and take advantage of labour laws from their country by outsourcing production in poorer and less restricted countries. After all, contemporary capitalism is about making as much profit as possible in the most efficient and cost effective way—even if it may involve marketing manipulation, dishonesty, replacing workers with machines, slipping between the laws and exploiting / killing others so to maintain their power and control over them.

Recall when I spoke of how masculine desire often consists of a fetishistic dimension where people would fetishize various body parts. This idea is also used similarly under the context of “Fetish commodity”, a well known Marxist idea where people buy and consume products while fetishizing various social dimensions of it—such as its relationships with certain ideologies; like how a Louis Vuitton purse signifies wealth and social status (in sociology, this is called conspicuous consumption). In other instances, one buys an iPhone or MacBook while forgetting how many of these products are produced by exploiting poor labour wages from other countries. I won’t talk too much about fetish commodity today, but what I wish to point out is how society forces us into a structure (Other) where it teaches us how and what to desire, where everything is about self-interest—even in relationships. Everything is about myself and my happiness and pleasure. One can even say that society teaches us how to be narcissists, selfish, and ego-centric, which leads people into all sorts of mental illnesses.

Adam Smith who pioneered modern economics once famously wrote about the “invisible hand” and how a free market economy prevails when every individual within its system are serving themselves. By doing so, they would “invisibly” benefit society via generating and stimulating the economy. But is this always the case? Does serving ourselves result in serving others and benefit them? It wasn’t until centuries later where Lacanians and Freudo-Marxists took to humorously recoin the term as the “invisible hand job”—a way to criticize our hedonistic and self-serving, self-obsessed world where people think they are serving others, even when they are serving their self interests, political gains, and pleasures. Perhaps serving ourselves in society might not always benefit others around us after all. Yet, we are always caught in a society where we are forced to serve ourselves where we may exploit its structures and transgress the law and harm other people—just like the person who cheats on their partner; or the person who desires someone who is ready to break the laws.

Due to human desire who may inevitably transgress the laws in all sorts of ways, is it possible to establish a utopian society where everyone is equal? Was Freud right that humans always have a tendency to break laws and self destruct through their repetition compulsions? Is there such thing as perpetual peace? Perhaps the reason why communism had always failed was because Marx never considered the problem of human desire (or human nature). And it is for this reason which led Freud to allude to how communism will never work, as he recites the famous Latin phrase, “Homo homini lupus”: a man is a wolf to another man (from his famous book called, Civilization and its Discontents). Freud believed that humans always had a tendency to exploit laws and do all sorts of evil things to their neighbors for the sake of their desires and pleasures when they are given the opportunity. This can be seen during the darkest times in human history, where the madness of humanity and their neuroticisms are revealed in some of the most violent and grotesque ways (i.e. genocide, colonialism, slavery, war crimes, murder, mass rape, etc.).

Perhaps one of the things that Freud also tried to suggest is how there can never be a communist society where people would “live according to their needs” as Marx would say. There is always something left to desire, something left to transgress where our desires may one day get the best of us. Yet, while in this post, we have explored many negative ways humans transgresses the law, Lacan also saw how certain forms of transgressions are necessary in society and within the individual in order for real changes to occur (the ethical question is how these transgressions are achieved). One can perhaps, think of such transgressions as some of humanity’s greatest revolutions and protests where they tried to produce real changes in society. It is reminiscent to the function of love, where one discovers new possibilities and produces a truth as they attempt to assign new symbolic meanings that takes the place of what was previously there (precisely, the function of metaphor).

Last time, I spoke of how love can turn selfish into selfless. If love can dissolve our symptoms where we pawn or give up parts of our narcissisms for the other person which makes us humble, could love be the antidote to the problems we have in our world today? At its height, love shows us that it has the ability to traverse across some of the greatest differences between people and halt their repetitive symptoms. For where there is love, there is less desire; and where there is pure desire, there is less love. If society teaches us how to desire, love will not only interrupt our repetition compulsions, it may allow us to produce something new in our lives, where we discover new ways to desire and love like never before. Thus perhaps, what we need most is a revolution of love that surprises the world. 

At the fundamental level, we can begin to see the significance on how repetition and desire takes over our lives without us realizing. We can perhaps, start to see how someone who enjoys listening to their favourite songs repeatedly can resemble so closely to major events in human history. Just as Freud and Lacan saw how humans have a tendency to repeat certain behaviors who transfers past experiences onto the present, Marx, while referencing G.W.F. Hegel, once famously pointed out how “world historical facts and personages always happen twice”. This famous passage originates from a book called Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, where Marx compares Napoleon III who failed to imitate his uncle, the Napoleon that everyone knows from the French Revolution. One way we can interpret this passage is Marx’s suggestion that those who are involved in revolutionary changes and transgressions of society are often trapped and haunted by ideologies and events from their past (i.e. Napoleon III haunted by his uncle). In this sense, history always had a tendency to repeat in various ways, as people gets haunted by their past memories and transferences. It is just like the man who treated his girlfriends in the same ways due his transference from how his father treated his mother during his early life. It also resembles to all the failures of communism in different countries that took place in the last century.

In the same way that love has the ability to interrupt our repetition compulsions, perhaps the idea of communism was Marx’s attempt at halting the repetition of history and people’s tendency to get haunted by their past. Perhaps Marx invented communism out of love in hopes for a better world, even if it failed miserably every time humans tried it (i.e. Soviet Union, China, and North Korea). To be sure, communism failed not because its system is flawed (unlike what most people think, government does not exist in textbook communism, hence the absence of totalitarianism). Communism repeatedly failed because it is too perfect. Whereas humans are imperfect who are always subject to their neuroticisms, desires, anxieties, and frustrations, where they may break the law in all sorts of unhealthy and harmful ways. This is where we get into renown dialogues that took place between Maurice Blanchot and Jean-Luc Nancy on what it means to be part of a community, or to truly be “communal”—as in communism.

Above all, historical repetition can be found through the countless rise and fall of empires and the endless cycles of peace and war. This can be witnessed at grand scales through the events of World War I and World War II, where the latter was haunted by the former. Agreeing with Hegel’s thoughts that history would reoccur in different ways, Marx famously adds onto his words:

“…History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”

And the possibility of its overcoming?
Precisely, through love itself.

Commentaries, Contemplation, Popular Posts

On Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Metaphors of Love and the Limits of Human Knowledge


“Love without risk is an impossibility. Like war without death.” —Alain Badiou

The question of love is one of the oldest living philosophical inquiries in human history. We study it. We mourn for it. We write and sing about it. Most importantly, we experience it. Love in our contemporary world has largely been undermined by our hedonistic culture which teaches us the reality of pleasure (sex). Today, it would only be fair for me do the opposite: emphasize on love and undermine pleasure. I hope this post will forever reshape how you see human passion and your relationship with others. Love is profound because love is infinite. 

This post follows my previous two writings on Lacanian psychoanalysis (hyperlink: part I; part II). You only need to understand part I to read this (you can probably get by without reading it, but you won’t understand what I mean by “split subject” and “wound”). While I will try to reintroduce some of the old foundational ideas, I will skip through most of them and jump straight into general psychoanalytic approach to love. Due to the length of this post, I won’t have room to talk about the different types of love—namely obsessional and hysterical love. But the general consensus is that love is feminine in nature and obsessional neurosis (masculinity) is a dialectic with hysteria (femininity). I purposely titled this post after Lacan’s Seminar XX (20), On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge.¬†

Happy reading split subjects!

Imaginary, Narcissism, and The One

“Why is love rich beyond all other possible human experiences and a sweet burden to those seized in its grasp? Because we become what we love and yet remain ourselves. Then we want to thank the beloved, but find nothing that suffices. We can only thank with ourselves. Love transforms gratitude into loyalty to ourselves and unconditional faith in the other. That is how love steadily intensifies its innermost secret.”

— Martin Heidegger, Letters (to Hannah Arendt)

Sigmund Freud once famously argued that who we love in our life is influenced by our past relationships. But what is sometimes overlooked is the relationship people establish with themselves: between the ideal-ego and ego-ideal where the split subject recognize parts of themselves in the “other person” that they see in the mirror. As the split subject looks into the mirror reflection of themselves, the symbolic ego-ideal emerges as the Other (i.e. social laws) which interferes with their own ideal-ego (their self image); they begin to recognize that something is missing in the mirror and how their perceptions of themselves are never complete.

Let us use an example that may appear to have nothing to do with love, but emphasize on the fundamental separation between the imaginary ideal-ego and the symbolic ego-ideal. Consider the influence of social media platforms which functions as the Other and forms the ego-ideal. Recall in my previous post, I spoke about how it is not enough for me to recognize myself as an ideal person because you need the approval of the Other. You must live up to the Other’s expectations. It is like looking at yourself in the mirror, but recognizing that there is also the other Other person who is unknowingly standing behind you and sees who you are in a certain way. The symbolic ego-ideal is the recognition of an outside beyond who you are as you evaluate yourself. You judge yourself; recognize your insecurities because the Other sees you in certain ways since they are the one who represents the laws. As split subjects, we are trying to satisfy the desires of the Other.¬†

Think of how people struggle with self image due to social media pressuring them to have impossible body standards (it doesn’t always have to be social media, it can be many things—but we will use social media as an example). It is common for people to think that going to the gym and building their bodies would make them feel more secure. Certainly for most people, working out is a healthy activity. Such endeavor would only be problematic if the split subject starts living in the gym 24/7 and avoids other obligations. For the sake of simplicity, let us refer to this man as patient X: someone who desires to become a veiny hulk due to the effects of social media. As a result, this drives him to neglect his daily obligations so he can work out 24/7. His desires to obsessively workout (symptom) becomes a form of addiction. Let us also say that their desire to workout is to avoid confronting the truth that they are insecure (the Real).

In such case, I would imagine that the analyst’s job is to help the analysand (patient) reduce their trust of the Other (social media)—or reduce the impositions of the Other’s effects on the subject. The analyst’s job is to help the analysand touch the Real and discover the truth of their desires for obsessively working out is caused by their insecurities. As such, they must learn to do something else for a change. The truth of such desire can only be produced if patient X desires to discover the reason behind their symptoms (of why they are so obsessively working out). Certainly, by helping the analysand touch the Real does not free the subject from the tyranny of the Other. The Other will still impose the law onto them—and they may still recognize their insecurity. Only this time hopefully, it leads to a healthier relationship between how the split subject conceives of their ideal-ego and ego-ideal (their self-image).

Whatever a split subject perceive as lacking in the mirror is never what they originally lack. The human mind is deceptive in the sense that it always attempts to protect itself from trauma. The object cause of desire (object a; lack) which resides in the Real is like a blackhole that the subject can never fully grasp. While patient X may think they are concealing their lack by going to the gym and neglecting other obligations, their initial recognition of their lack is always a misrecognition or a wishful projection. In other words, while patient X may perceive that they are lacking big arms (due to influence of social media), even when what they are lacking is a lost object that is radically excluded from their consciousness (his insecurities). The solution of touching the Real where patient X recognizes the truth of his desires (symptoms) is caused by insecurities could be a mere invention in his mind. This is to say that their symptom may have nothing to do with their insecurities even if patient X believes to be the case. Yet, it would be as Lacan said on how speaking the entire truth is impossible, but it is through the speech of what the subject perceives as truth which holds onto the Real. Therefore, by helping patient X recognize the truth of his desires of working out 24/7, patient X may change the way he relates with the Real. The goal of psychoanalysis is to reorient patient X’s relationship with the Real (their lack; their insecurities) so they can dissolve their symptoms and change or interrupt how they desire.¬†

While this is an oversimplification of such matter, the point I wish to make is that the convergence between ideal-ego and ego-ideal is an impossible task. Perhaps one might think that by achieving big arms, one removes what they perceive to be missing in the mirror. But this is almost never the case because, as already mentioned, getting big arms is a misrecognition of their lack. This is why you sometimes meet really attractive people who are still insecure about something—things that might not have anything to do with their appearance. One can be insecure about their intelligence, work, social skills, and lots of other things. In fact, some may find that the more attractive the person is, the more insecure they are. While this is not always true, sometimes, the more someone recognizes their lack, the more they will try to hide it by throwing on 50 pounds of make-up or become a veiny hulk, etc. At the end, everyone has insecurities regardless of how attractive they are. And no matter how hard one tries to conceal it, there will always be this lack because our ideal-ego is imposed by our laws of society (we are split subjects).

Think of all the things people do in their lives: addiction (gambling, partying, drugs, alcohol, smoke, sugar), people who work too much, play too much video games, people who repetitively does too much of something. While you can’t necessarily cure their symptoms since they are always a split subject, you can change and interrupt the way they experience these symptoms. I speak of this repetition compulsion in a similar way to my last post when I provided an example on how people enjoy listening to their favorite songs over and over again; just like patient X who repeatedly lives in the gym. Our daily lives are riddled by these unconscious repetitive symptoms that we are unaware of. Most of these symptoms are harmless and healthy when kept in check, while others are harmful when done to the extreme. We repeat them because we can never get enough pleasure from it since we are split subjects. Enjoy your symptoms!

The experience of narcissism is where the self attempts to unify with their ideal mirror image as One. The movement between the ego-ideal and ideal-ego causes the recognition of a lack when the split subject looks at themselves in mirror or at other people (i.e. I lack big arms due to the effects of the symbolic Other, therefore I produce the fantasy of becoming a veiny hulk). The desire to converge the ego-ideal and ideal-ego together is often referred as “the One”. Such term is also used in the same sense on how couples sometimes refer to their significant other as the One—an illusionary One that is produced by the effects of the imaginary. Perhaps our desire to converge with the One also explains why we live in a self-obsessed culture where people are constantly fascinated by their own image.¬†

Now you know why you sometimes see couples wear matching clothes. They are attempting to converge with the other person into their ideal image (they see “parts of themselves” in the other). Rightly so, many couples end up resembling each other in some ways, whether it be their world views, personality, appearance, or habits; something that is normal until it reaches a point where the image of the One remains as the One and does not go through the symbolic which makes us recognize that the other person is actually different from us.¬†

At the fundamental level, love is an imaginary and narcissistic phenomenon. Just as the child who looks into the mirror and says “This other person in the mirror is me!”, people also associate their beloved as someone who is similar to themselves. At the imaginary level, love between two people is about sameness so to turn the other into the One. Yet, the image of the One is always stopped short by the symbolic. Furthermore, while all relationships are based on past relationships, imaginary love steals over us before we recognize that this person turns out to be different from our past relationships. In this sense, love truly is blind (and friendship closes its eyes; this famous saying is from Friedrich Nietzsche). Now you know why Freud once said that “Love is temporary psychosis”. It is temporary because it is only a matter of time where we realize that the One is never quite “the One” since the other person is different from us. For Lacan, it is not enough for love to exist within the imaginary dimension through sameness. Any forms of love that are stuck within the imaginary are always doomed to fail. In extreme cases, it may lead to psychosis, delusions, and paranoia. This can be seen in the famous real case of Aimee who externally projected her ideal-ego onto an actress and murdered her. Lacan argued that Aimee’s love for her ideal-ego that she projected onto the actress turned into hate. When Aimee struck a knife at the actress, she struck an image of herself. After the crime was committed, Aimee goes through a meltdown and began crying where her psychotic symptoms were relieved.¬†

Let us briefly consider the opposite scenario where a person does not seek to turn the other person into the One. Consider an everyday person who says, “I should love my significant other for who they are and I should never love an idealized image of them” (an idealized image that I project onto the other person—my narcissism; the One). Often times, if you continue to ask the same person about their relationship with their significant other, they may also tell you all the things they think are important in a relationship. They might tell you how being faithful is important—something most people would agree. In some cases, this makes a classic example of the One entering into their mind without their conscious recognition. The person who is saying this does not recognize that their love for the other might be their love for the One / ideal self of being faithful to their partner. At times, becoming the ideal One (being a faithful person) is more important than being with their partner. Therefore at times, it is when we believe we are not idealizing the other where we idealize them where we are caught into our own image of the One (our own narcissism). Analysts seem to agree that idealism is an inescapable aspect of human passion. The same phenomena happens when people “love for love sake” where one loves the ideal or idea of love. One of the main differences between animal and human passion is that humans consists of an idealized dimension of love that enters into their minds when they least expect it. We don’t just love the person, we also love to love. Or as James Joyce would say, “Love loves to love love”.

Symbolic, Love, and Lack

“Love is giving what you don’t have.” —Jacques Lacan

As we know, it is impossible to converge with our idealized One that we see in the mirror due to the discourse of the symbolic Other. Thus, it is also impossible to converge with our beloved where we project ourselves onto them. Love can never only exist within the imaginary and must go through the symbolic.

While we may spend much of our lives protecting ourselves from experiencing the full force of what we truly lack (the Real), which leads to establishing healthy or unhealthy ways to deal with it (the symptom). In an ironic way, love does the opposite. This is the most profound insight Lacan offered in regards to the experience of love; which is that love reveals our experience of lack where the subject willingly exposes the truth of their desires and symptoms. To declare our love is to give what we lack. 

By declaring our love, one is proclaiming that they are split subjects. To say “I love you” is to say “I am incomplete”. This is not as simple as saying “I am incomplete and you complete me” so to speak (though it’s not wrong). But rather, the one who declares their love is offering what they recognize as the lack (object a; or object cause of desire) that they locate within their beloved. Lacan refers to the declaration of love as “making love” because one literally produces love by saying “I love you”. Love is conjured out of thin air through the act of declaration. Perhaps this is what makes these “three special words” so special.

Think of our example of the diagnosis for patient X who must touch the Real by acknowledging their unconscious repetitive symptoms are produced by their insecurities. By confronting the truth of their desires of living in the gym, patient X creates something new in their lives: a difference and dissolves their symptoms (they produce a new relationship with the Real after recognizing their symptoms are due to their insecurities). The recognition of love for the other does something similar. Love also touches the Real which produces a difference to those who declares and experiences it. This is why the encounter of love has the ability to change our lives and who we perceive ourselves to be! 

Just as the person will always see something missing in their mirror image due to the effects of the symbolic Other, they also recognize lack when they encounter their beloved. Hence, to love someone is to unconsciously locate our lack in the other. Love is an exposure of our lack which may halt the lover’s desire of whatever repetitive symptoms they already have. At its core, love has nothing to do with our desires other than the truth of such desires—which is that X loves Y.

Love also has nothing to do with sex. From the psychoanalytic perspective, sex is basically a bundle of drives attempting to achieve satisfaction. Sex teaches us the reality of pleasure. This is why Lacan famously said that “There is no sexual relationship”. There is no sexual relationship other than each person recognizing their own pleasure during intercourse. The only sexual relationship they have is with themselves. In other words, sex is mutual masturbation. If someone thinks they love someone because of their butt fetish (for example), then it is not love, but lust. [The popular interpretation is that while there are no sexual relationships, it is love which substitutes or gives meaning to sex].

It is common for us to mistake desire and lust as love. And if such confusion ever arises, it is because desire and love are two sides of the same coin. It is the encounter of the Real or getting too close to object a which stops our desire (it interrupts our repetitive symptoms; when we get too close to object a, we also experience anxiety). The lack that we unconsciously locate in the other (object a) causes our desire while eventually stopping it in its tracks which produces the experience of love. This is why love feels like it cannot be described by any words or reason. Our desire for the other temporarily comes to a halt and love is produced by what is left over through the symbolic (by what is missing in symbolic language). Hence, Lacan points out how love allows us to experience the Real of our desire without the tragic dimension.

We often perceive the beloved as the One via imaginary even if such unity is impossible because love consumes us before we recognize that the One is never quite the One we perceive. Analysts sometimes talk about the whimsical aspects of love that they observe in couples where the things that each person perceives in the other is not always directly felt or recognized by the other person. In this sense, love—which is complicated by their desires—is a form of misrecognition (just like patient X’s misrecognition of his desire for big arms, even when the truth is that he is insecure). The entire notion of dating involves this unconscious search of the lost object cause of desire (a) or lack. Some people manage to locate object a very quickly and those who are able to find it in the other will perceive them as someone who carries a special “glow”. Some of us are able to locate object a much easier in certain individuals than others because all relationships are based on past relationships. And when object a is unconsciously located during the first encounter of the other, it sometimes becomes “love at first sight” (I say sometimes because it can also be lust).

Love at first sight is often considered as a short circuit between the imaginary and symbolic where the subject bypasses the Other’s laws (such as the Other’s demand that we must know someone before we can love them). Lacan once spoke of love at first sight as a form of attack that suddenly overpowers the subject. Its experience is often metaphorically described as getting struck by a lightning bolt (hence the French idiom coup de foudre which translates as a flash of lightning or thunderbolt). There are many famous examples of love at first sight in human history. One of them is from Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (father of existentialism) where nearly all of his works were inspired by his love for a woman named Regina (Regine Olsen). Kierkegaard once described his love encounter of Regina as a form of longing which gave him a strong sense of familiarity (this is transference; will get to later).

Nevertheless, just as one always identifies their lack in the mirror (i.e. I am missing big arms), the split subject also identifies the lack or object a that they locate in their beloved. But as we learned, this recognition of lack in ourselves or beloved is always, in some ways, a misrecognition (i.e. I am not missing big arms as I gaze into the mirror, but something that is unconscious to me; such that I am insecure). Thus, perhaps the moment we think we love the other and recognize them for their good qualities is the moment where we don’t love them for their good qualities. Bruce Fink, a renown clinical psychoanalyst, does a brilliant job at explaining how love functions as a form of misrecognition:

“Can we after all, love someone who seems to be perfect, someone who seems to have everything? Isn’t it often the case that although we may be fascinated or captivated by someone who appears to have only good qualities, we only begin to love him or her from the moment we suspect that he or she is somewhat (if not deeply) unhappy, quite clueless about something, rather awkward, clumsy, or helpless? Isn’t it in his or her nonmastery or incompleteness that we see a possible place for ourselves in his or her affections—that is, that we glimpse the possibility that we may be able to do something for that person, be something to that person? In this case, we perhaps love not what they have, but what they do not have; moreover, we show our love by giving what we ourselves do not have.”¬†

Perhaps we don’t love the other’s perfections and what they have after all. We love what they do not have. We love what the other lacks and we want to take the place of such lack as much as we would like them to do the same for us. Love is thus, born between givers of what they do not have. As Fink might say, to declare “I love you” is to give what we lack and hope the other will handle it with care. In our materialistic world, it is easy to reveal our love by showering our beloved with what we have, such as a fancy dinner or a big bouquet of roses. But it is much more meaningful and difficult to give what we do not have.

This is why Lacan points out how humans cannot speak about love without sounding like an imbecile. We cannot talk about love without situating it into metaphors which represents its lack. For Lacan, love is always mutual. He uses his own metaphor to describe love:

Imagine you see a beautiful flower. You reach out your hand to grab it. But at the moment you do, the flower bursts into flames. In its place, you see another hand appear, reaching back towards your own.

This famous Lacanian metaphor represents the height of love which occurs when the beloved transforms into the lover. When the lover declares their love by reaching their hand towards the beloved (flower), the beloved bursts into flames as their hand reaches back to the lover. This is what some analysts refer as “the miracle of love”. It is a miracle that your beloved returns your love! Obviously, the idea that our beloved happens to love us back will not always be the case, even if Lacan would disagree, which he has every reason to do so (will get to later). I won’t talk too much about unrequited love today. All I will say is that unrequited love may sometimes make the lover question whether they are lovable or not. “The other does not love me back because I am not good enough to become the One!”. To declare our love is to reveal our narcissistic wound that we are incomplete. This is why the pain of unrequited love is unlike any other.

Alenka Zupancic, a contemporary Lacanian scholar, talks about love as a form of surprise. It is surprising that what we initially perceive as the person of interest often turns out to be completely “different”, even when the other person had been themselves all this time. Zupancic writes a beautiful passage on the love encounter:

“A love encounter is not simply about everything falling into its rightful place. A love encounter is not simply about a contingent match between two different pathologies, about two individuals being lucky enough to encounter in each other what “works for them”. Rather, love is what makes it work. Love does something to us, it makes, or allows for, the cause of our desire to condescend, to coincide with our love. And the effect of this is surprise—only this surprise, and not simply our infatuation, is the sign of love proper. It is the sign of the subject, of the subjective figure of love. It says not simply “You are it!.” but rather: “How surprising that you are it!”. Or, in a simpler formula of how love operates: “How surprising that you are you!”.

Love is about difference, not sameness. Love appears only when something is out of place and misrecognized. The person who is outgoing life of the party turns out to be introspective and thoughtful. The person who appears aloof is just shy. Or the intelligent person turns out to be clueless of social norms. The effect of symbolic love is the surprise of difference.

While the imaginary dimension of love makes us blind to the fact that the One is never quite the One (the imaginary makes us think that the other is the same as us, even when they are different), love at the symbolic level has the ability to traverse differences where two people produces a truth together. Love is what makes differences work. It is where people converge into their imaginary One as they recognize its impossibility through each other’s symbolic differences. Thus, real love must triumph over all the obstacles ruptured from the world—even if it may sometimes involve struggle and pain. For, isn’t it through the hardships of love which makes it meaningful? That our love for the other is worth fighting for and not easily given up on? Imagine two people who goes through thick and thin with unconditional faith in the other and conquers the entire universe! Perhaps Freud was right in that one day, the years of struggle will strike us as the most beautiful.¬†

But we now also understand what Lacan meant when he asked: “What does it matter how many lovers you have if none of them can give you the universe?”. Love always involves difference where our beloved can never completely give us our universe (i.e. idealized relationship; the One). Think of some people who are prone to jumping from one relationship to another from giving up on their love after the first obstacle. Some of them wants to find their ideal love and ideal relationship without recognizing that the convergence of the One is impossible. Love cannot exist solely within the imaginary. Love is about difference, and it is hard work.

In the film Arrival, the relationship between Ian and Louise is a good example of a love encounter. Consider the ending where Ian (Jeremy Renner) declares his love for Louise (Amy Adams) by delivering a magnificent line: “I’ve had my head titled up to the stars for as long as I can remember. You know what surprised me most? It wasn’t meeting them. It was meeting you”. Not only is love a form of surprise, it requires chance to occur (will get to this later). It is by chance that they meet where they begin their relationship through mutual differences. Where Louise thinks language is the foundation of civilization, Ian thinks it is science. And it is only at the end of the film where such difference gets resolved as Ian becomes surprised by how Louise approached language like a mathematician. Although they end up separating, what makes the ending of Arrival profound and heart wrenching is Louise’s act of love and her acceptance of the finitude of being human. Would you give birth to your daughter knowing that she will die at a young age? Just as, would one adopt a pet companion knowing they will eventually die from their illness? The truth is, everyone dies sooner or later. While it might be sad to know that the person or companion we love dearly will one day leave you (or they already left you), it is because they will leave you which makes the time you spend with them meaningful. Every memory is infinite, every moment is forever.

Recall in my last post, when I introduced one of Freud’s famous patients of the man who was attracted to the shine on a woman’s nose that no one else could see. This is a prime example of transference. We often associate various traits of the other as something familiar to our past relationships. People find and see different things within the other that they love. Hence, not only is love blind, beauty is also in the eye of the beholder. A lot of people tend to think that by achieving ideal body standards set by society, they become the object of desire. While this might be true under the context of desire and sex, people often love characteristics that has nothing to do with these beauty standards because we love what they do not have. This is why everyone has something beautiful and unique about them, even if they don’t fit into any ideal standards.¬†

Finally, we also have the experience of hate. Quite the contrary to what most people think. Hate is an extension of love. You might notice that people who break up may sometimes end up hating each other. They might talk behind each other’s back and gossip to other people how horrible their ex were. The truth is that nothing annoys us more than the things our lovers do. If we did not love them, we would not care about the things they do because it wouldn’t matter in the first place. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. And those who cannot hate, cannot love.

Love and Transference

“Love is giving what you don’t have…to someone who does not want it.” —Jacques Lacan

Transference is a common phenomenon that happens everyday. It involves the split subject who transfers past experiences, traumas and emotions onto a present object. These past experiences can be applied onto someone or something. Not only is transference central to psychoanalytic therapy, it plays a fundamental role in the experience of love. 

Since all relationships are based on past relationships, love is transference. Humans transfer past emotions and experiences onto the present object without immediately recognizing that the present object that we perceive as sameness—such as the beloved—is actually different from our past. Now we understand how our misrecognitions are often produced by transference (our misrecognitions are a form of wishful projection—our desires). This is why analysts often say that when one is in love, they are unconsciously in love with someone else. Who is the other person that we unconsciously love? Could it be our ex-partners? Our mother or father? Our siblings? Could it be someone who one cannot possibly love due to symbolic influence of the Other? One can only imagine the tragic dimension that is absent from the declaration of love as the love that cannot be accepted by someone else. This is the reason why our beloved often resembles someone in our families or past relationships even when they are a completely different person. And this is exactly why love is about difference.

One way of interpreting this last part of Lacan’s quote is to think of how many of us sometimes fixate on the failures of our past relationships which cast doubts on our current beloved without our conscious recognition. Just as our recognition that we project onto our beloved turns out to be something else (the person who is aloof is just shy, etc.), perhaps the reason we have doubts about them is due to transference. Thus, perhaps the moment we think the other is not returning our love (a projection from our past where someone did not want our love), is the moment where we find love being returned.¬†

Another way we can interpret this last part of Lacan’s quote is to think of how the lack that we give to the other are often traits and characteristics that they see as our imperfections and non-masteries. In reality—and as strange as it may sound—it is often these imperfect annoying traits about the other person that we love most. The reason is because they unconsciously remind us of something from past relationships that we have repressed where they consciously appear to us as disgust and annoyance. In this sense, the lack that we give are things that the other does not consciously want, but unconsciously desires.

Consider the film No Time to Die¬†and the scene where Safin visits Madelaine at her psychotherapy office. The setting of her office reveals that Madelaine is a psychoanalyst of sorts. Such view is reinforced by Safin who points out how it is dangerous for the patient to have an attractive psychotherapist. This is true in the sense that the goal of the analyst is to cause desire within the analysand without the analyst becoming their object of desire. And when the analyst is attractive, it becomes difficult to not become the object of desire. This is why the analyst’s desk is located behind the patient’s chair (you see Madeleine’s desk behind Safin during this scene). It is also one of the reasons why you sometimes hear people talk about falling in love with their analysts or therapists.

Within the analytic setting, the “analysand” (patient) basically translates as “the person who analyzes”. When you get psychoanalyzed, it is the patient who does all the hard work by analyzing themselves via free association (i.e. speaking whatever comes to mind). In the perspective of the analysand, the analyst is someone who is “supposed to know” all the answers to their unconscious repetitive symptoms, even when the analyst knows nothing more than what the analysand tells them when they free associate. The analyst’s job is to follow the trail of the analysand’s unconscious as they free associate and help them locate the key to dissolve their symptoms.

I recall reading about a real case of a male patient who did not know why he always treated and dumped his ex-girlfriends in the exact same way. As he went through analysis, he discovered the reason why he treated them in the same way was because this was how his father treated his mother when he was a child. This is a good example of how childhood experiences affects adulthood—or what Freud refer as the “return of the repressed”. It is also a good example of how past relationships influences present relationships (transference). Instead of our made up example of patient X who goes to the gym 24/7, we have a real case of someone who repeatedly treats their girlfriends in the exact same way where the reason is unconscious to them.

This takes us back to the question from my previous post between what the subject wants versus what the Other wants from the subject. Consider Squid Game, where each player is forced into relations with the Other (the show featured a book by Lacan). If you do not conform to the desires of the Other, which is to play by the rules of capitalism (or squid game) so to serve yourself, you will be eliminated from society. Hence, the everyday split subject’s desire is the Other’s desire (to desire for money, social status, wealth, ideal beauty, etc.; or patient X who wants to become a veiny hulk). This is metaphorically paralleled to the film Inception where it implied Robert Fischer as someone who wasn’t sure what his father desired for him. At the end of the film—despite the “inception” that took place—Fischer opens up a safe and realizes that his father does not want him to take his place of owning his business empire. Instead, he wants Fischer to dismantle it and become his own man. One can only assume that the awakened Fischer from the depths of his dreams would live his life satisfying his father’s desire.

This is part of the reason why Lacan thinks love is always mutual and will inevitably be returned (some analysts contests this claim). Not only does Lacan argue that the experience of love does not fully emerge until the lover unconsciously recognizes that love is also emerging within the beloved; at the fundamental level, the declaration of love functions as a form of demand which reveals to the beloved as the desire of the Other. All declaration of love is a demand for love to be returned. In order for the beloved to satisfy the desires of the other (i.e. the lover who declared love), love will be returned. 

Contrary to these examples, in a clinical setting, the analyst’s goal is to not desire the analysand to be like this or like that in the same way the everyday Other would. Rather, the analyst’s job is to give the analysand a chance to produce their own desires as the analyst attempts to reduce the effects of the Other’s impositions. After all, the subject’s desire is the Other’s desire. It is by reducing the effects of the Other (but never eliminating) where it could yield room for the analysand’s subjectivity to identify the truth of their desires (symptoms), as they unconsciously recognize their own split subjectivity. This procedure is referred as the “ethical act of psychoanalysis”. It is not the analyst’s job to determine the analysand’s desires and what they should perceive as the truth of their desires (instead, the analyst guides them by following the crumbs of their unconscious as they free associate in an attempt to resolve their transference). In this sense, one can say that psychoanalysis is the practice of free speech par excellence. The analysand just sits there and speaks whatever comes to mind.

However, just because it is the analyst’s job to give space for the analysand to desire does not mean that the analyst shouldn’t desire anything from the analysand. One of the first things that the analysand demands from the analyst during therapy is for the analyst’s love and care that they listen attentively to what they have to say. The reason is because speech is a demand for love; just like a baby’s cry. Analysts knows they cannot return this type of love—which is why they often speak as little as possible during analysis. The analyst must always be aware of their desires versus the desires from the analysand. What makes psychoanalysis different from other therapies is that the analyst must always try to find something to desire within the analysand. They must try to love and care about something in the analysand in order for psychoanalysis to take place. After all, how could there be successful psychoanalysis if the patient does not feel like they are being listened to and cared for by the other?¬†

Lacan once famously pointed out how the analyst’s job is to temporarily function as the analysand’s “right person” (their beloved, but without becoming it). The analyst is the placeholder of the analysand’s love and knowledge (object a; lack) that the analysand unconsciously projects onto as they free associate. By becoming the “right person”, the analyst hopes that the analysand can experience the metaphor of love in a new way which would make them stop repeating their symptoms. This is one of the reasons why you cannot psychoanalyze yourself. There must always be an analyst or person who functions as the placeholder of the analysand’s love and knowledge. As we begin to see, psychoanalysis doesn’t just take place within a clinical setting, it happens everywhere through our encounters of love. The experience of love is central to dissolving the analysand’s symptoms because it is what allows difference, interruptions, and new knowledge to emerge. The moment the analysand feels like the analyst does not listen or care about them is usually the moment psychoanalysis fails.¬†

What is Love?

Love is the wound of our split subjectivity that we locate in the other. No wonder why we feel so vulnerable when we declare our love! Love is what we do not have—or have very little of due to symbolic filtering. Declaring our love for the other exposes our incompleteness (lack). Yet, to produce love through the act of declaration is to speak nothing of it because its experience infinitely exceeds language.¬†

In the same way patient X must come to the truth of their desires by producing new knowledge that their symptoms are caused by insecurities, the lover must also declare their love so to produce knowledge for the truth of their desires—such that everything they’ve done for their beloved was because they love them. If you are following my metaphors that are structured in the same way but with different content, you now understand why love marks the limits of human knowledge. It is from the revelation of the truth of our desires where new knowledge is produced from our unconscious mind. And it is from this truth or new knowledge that latches onto the Real which may change the perceptions of ourselves and everything around us. In some cases, it may even change the world! The metaphor of love takes infinite forms because love is the letter (or signifier) from our unconscious mind. Can you imagine the first person who desires to walk on the beach everyday (symptom) and suddenly discovers the truth that ocean tides are influenced by the moon? Or one day, Isaac Newton desired to sit under a tree where an apple randomly fell on his head which allowed him to discover gravity? The famous story of Newton is indeed, a love story. Love is the metaphorical representation of infinity that is conceived through symbolic thought. To conceive of love is to become the thinker of infinities.

If you recall when I said that love is fundamentally feminine, we now understand why a hysterics position (mostly found in women) is infinitely more profound than an obsessional neurotic (mostly found in men). Even an obsessional neurotic must temporarily take on the position of a hysteric so to discover new knowledge and declare their love. This is why obsessional neuroticism is a dialectic with hysteria. 

In order for love to arise, there must always be a certain level of risk and contingency. Alain Badiou’s philosophy on love is a great example which circles around psychoanalysis. Badiou is well known for criticizing dating apps which uses advanced algorithms to pair people who are similar to each other. He thinks people today are too safe (conservative) and hedonistic in their approach to love in that they always either look for sameness or they look for sex (food for thought: what is the difference between an algorithm that matches people in a dating app, and the person who arranges blind dates and marriages?). In other words, people want love without chance and risk. They want guaranteed love and make sure that the other is their “best fit”, even when love only occurs when things don’t quite fit. Ultimately, Badiou disagrees with this type of “safe love” and favors love that requires adventure, difference, contingency, and risk.

Regardless of Badiou’s critique. Love is an event that is ruptured out of the contingencies of everyday life (like the apple that randomly fell on Newton’s head). The encounter of love arises in the most unexpected places which shakes the foundations of your world (the apple that shook Newton’s world). One day, you walk into a place and encounter a person who challenges your world (this is the “fall” of falling in love). Love becomes an ethical event that is produced out of pure contingency. In face of such event, love requires a risk that two people must take. Your encounter of the other turns into destiny (just as it is Newton’s destiny to encounter the apple which allowed him to discover gravity). It is no longer by chance that you encountered this person, but your destiny to do so. Human fate gives over to another human fate. From this point on, love allows you to see the world not from the perspective of one, but from the perspective of two (difference). And it is through these differences in perspectives where two people produces a truth together. Love becomes a construction of a new life (difference) that is produced over time. As Badiou says, love is a rare experience where on the basis of chance inscribed in a moment, one attempts to declare eternity!¬†

Love is a catastrophe that interrupts your existence and shakes you out of your comfort zone like stage fright. The encounter of love makes you recognize that your world is no longer about yourself (your narcssisism; the One), but what you lack: your beloved. Love is not fetishism, such as the sexualization of the other’s body parts (breast, butt, penis, muscles, etc.). Love is a form of care for the other’s soul which involves experiencing the world from a different perspective. To love is to want your beloved to be happy. This is love in its purest form. It is what most people refer as “true love” or “unconditional love”. In our hedonistic society which teaches us to serve our own pleasures and happiness, love turns selfish into selfless. Many people often confuse love and desire by thinking that love must always consist of possessing or desiring the other. While loving and desiring to be with our beloved should always be the ideal scenario, we all know it’s not always possible. However difficult it might be, it is perfectly possible that one can love someone without desiring to be with them. Hence, it is also possible that one can love someone while desiring someone else. But it is very difficult to love without desire or wanting to be with the other because love and desire are two sides of the same coin. It is not recommended that one should give up on their desires for the other because the truth is, everyone wants to be with the person they love most.

Is the experience of love simply caused by hormones and chemical reactions as science claims? While this answer is sufficient for most materialists, it cannot explain the problem between consciousness and the unconscious mind. Perhaps this highlights the philosophical problem between idealism and materialism (the experience of consciousness is non-physical; one can hold onto their physical brain, but they cannot physically hold onto their experience of consciousness; welcome to metaphysics). Personally, I think this is a cold approach to love, even if it is not a wrong answer. Some contemporary psychologists tries to scientifically universalize the experience of love by arguing what a normal relationship should look like (think of the function of the Other defining an ideal relationship, like social media and advertisements defining ideal beauty). Many of them do so at the expense of ignoring the problem of ideology among other things. In psychoanalysis, there is no such thing as “normal” because every individual is unique with different pathologies and histories. Everyone has a different type of love language. There is always something specific and unique about each love encounter. This is what makes love perilous and profoundly beautiful!

Many of us have a tendency of burdening ourselves to be in love despite the risks that it involves—such that the other might not love us back, that it may lead to pain and suffering, or our love might fail in the future. The truth is, whether it is new knowledge, an animal companion, or someone special, humans can do very little without love. Without its lack which provokes our curiosity and desire, one would not be able to declare or produce the question of love and offer a response. It is here, where we arrive at one of the very first questions in human intellectual history:

What is love?

“The wound can have (should only have) one proper name. I recognize that I love—you—by this: you leave in me a wound that I do not want to replace.”
—Jacques Derrida.

Commentaries, Contemplation, Popular Posts

Lacanian Psychoanalysis and the Subversion of the Split Subject

Graph IV

Graph of Desire

You are reading part II of all my psychoanalytic writings. There is a part I and part III.
Part I talks about split subjectivity which can be found here.
Part III talks about love and the limits of human knowledge which can be found here.
Part IV talks about death drive and reality that can be found here.

Today, I would like to expand on my previous post on Lacanian psychoanalysis and the Wound of Split Subjectivity (part I) by understanding its relationship with the Graph of Desire. I am well aware that this is the graph that makes people who wish to learn psychoanalysis to run the other way. The Graph of Desire was presented in an essay called “The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious” which consists of a lot of ideas that Lacan had developed over many years. It was also where Lacan attempts to situate the “scientific subject” as the “unconscious subject”. This post will provide my own interpretations of the graph because this is what happens when you leave Bobby in his room for 7 weeks. I won’t aim to extrapolate every detail of the graph because there are many ways to read it.

I strongly encourage you to read my previous post on Lacan before you start this one. This is because it provides the foundations for everything that I will be talking about in this post. But in case you are lazy, I will summarize and refresh some of the ideas that I had introduced. I tried my best to make it digestible.

* * *

In my last post, I introduced the fundamentals in the ways which the subject must “give up” some of their desires in order to become a subject who is always wounded and incomplete. The subject begins from the mirror stage and moves from the ideal-ego to their ego-ideal as their experiences are mediated through symbolic laws which functions like a filter. I gave many pedagogical examples of how this symbolic filter works, such as the employee’s subjectivity and how they are represented by their company or institution (filter), yet their employee identity is not who they really are in their private lives. In the same way, the words we use to represent ourselves through language is not who we really are, but the becoming subjectivity that is never complete. The speaking subject who can only express themselves through language (i.e. “I am X”) is never “whole” and complete. Thus, subjectivity is always “split” because they are filtered through the symbolic laws that they must always conform to. Identity and subjectivity is a wound that can never be healed because one is always already a speaking subject who is divided by what they can and cannot desire. In turn, this produces the “split subject” who must always share a relationship with the filter of the symbolic “Other” (super ego / unconscious mind).

Today, I will focus on how language functions as the symbolic filter because this is what Lacanian psychoanalysis is about. The moment we speak or write a sentence, our language becomes the symptom of the symbolic Other (repression; or unrealized unconscious actions, etc.). The things we say offers us the clue to our unconscious mind and its thinking patterns. Since psychoanalysis studies the unconscious mind, its entire goal is to ask “What does the Other want?” (“Che Vuoi?”) by analyzing the things people say through free association. These associations can be random things, it can also be dream fragments and narratives that people tell others about, or stories that people identify as who they are as a human being.

Above all, this notion of filtering that passes through the symbolic Other (language) is what Lacan refer as “castration complex”. Castration is a never ending process that happens all the time in our lives. As I had pointed out in my last post, you are being castrated the moment you read this text. Recall that the child begins with their imaginary “ideal-ego” who goes through the castration complex (filter) which produces the ego-ideal (this is important, we will return to this). It is through our relationship with language which develops the ego-ideal. For example, the speaking subject must always follow the rules of language in the same way that they must follow the rules of society which leads to unconscious repressed desires. The subject’s relationship with language and other people is a relationship with their own Other (i.e. their unconscious desires). When the subject speaks, parts of who they are appears through language (the symptom), and the repressed desires goes missing (I will return to this later on). In the same way, the reader who is reading this text always gets filtered through language and symbolic laws.

This is why Lacan was famous for being called an “anti-philosopher”. What constitutes philosophy and its notions of truth has to do with the unconscious mind. Philosophy is the symptom of the unconscious. The subject must be mediated through language to produce philosophy. Hence, in order to speak about “Being”, one must subtract something from Being. Despite being influenced by Martin Heidegger, this is why Lacan will never be a Heideggarian. Heidegger had set out a task to retrieve fundamental being from the past. He was obsessed with a missing “Being” (lack) that is fundamental to all beings. There is always something missing in Being that makes us desire for Being.

Split subjectivity is central to psychoanalysis. Another example that Lacanians uses to describe the symbolic filtering is the train which moves through the train station. The train station does not move because it consists of symbolic language, laws and rules that are always in place (i.e. in language, we must follow the rules of grammar, etc. as we express who we are; just as a human being has to follow the written and unwritten rules of society). Meanwhile, it is the train / subject which moves through the station. The subject must desire to speak through language in order to express themselves. The train station (language; filter) is the site of differences and signifiers that the subject must pass through. As Lacan might say, the train station (Other) is the “treasure trove of signifiers [words]” which the subject must depend on in order to communicate and express themselves—even if this communication is directed to themselves (introspection). The subject is always mediated by symbolic language (signifier; “S”). We are split subjects because we are speaking animals.

Graph I

Graph I, “Elementary Cell”

In Graph I, we have two trajectories. The horizontal trajectory that flows from the left to right as S—>S’ implies the movement of signifiers such as this sentence which moves from the beginning to end (there are deeper implication to this such as the sliding of signifiers and the “anchoring point”). In order to understand the beginning of the sentence, we have to read what lies throughout the entire chain of significations towards the end of the sentence. It would make no sense for me to start a sentence and not finish it because that would not provide sufficient signifiers for me to understand its meaning.

Meanwhile, we have the vertical trajectory that is shaped like a horseshoe which loops over the horizontal trajectory backwards from right to left. The reason why Lacan loops it backwards is due to Freud’s ideas on “afterwardness” which suggests the ways which we analyze a sentence after we have articulated it (it also has to do with what Lacan calls the “quilting” of signifier and signified). The triangle represents the beginning of subjectivity, such as the subject as an animal, who crosses over the horizontal trajectory (symbolic language) twice and ends up producing the split subject ($) on the other end. What we see through this horseshoe trajectory is how split subjectivity is produced and mediated through language.

An example of this horizontal and vertical movement could be the mother who tells the child to clean up his room (horizontal trajectory). The child begins at the triangle who interprets the commands of their mother and produces the split subject who must give up certain desires to meet her mother’s command (perhaps they wanted to go outside to the playground). In the same way, since castration is never complete and occurs until we die, the graph could also represent the reader as the split subject who is currently interpreting this sentence as they get filtered through language.

By itself, the symbolic language is inanimate because it relies on the subject to give these words specific meanings. Thus, the vertical trajectory also represents intentionality. Here, we see something that is very interesting in regards to phenomenology (which studies intentionality), deconstruction and psychoanalysis because Lacan offers us a psychoanalytic way of interpreting intentionality that is not only influenced by inter-subjectivity, space, and time, but by our unconscious desires. This unconscious desire which motivates intentionality can only be experienced through the effects of the signifier.

The horizontal trajectory could be the representation of the “other person” who speaks. Whereas the horseshoe trajectory represents the subject who interprets what the other person says. Remember how the split subject’s relationship with the other person is actually a relationship with their own Other (i.e. unconscious desires and repression). In my view, the two positions of the horizontal and horseshoe trajectories are interchangeable. The other person who speaks (horizontal) could also be the one who returns “afterwards” to interpret what they had said (horseshoe). I would like to consider two different perspectives between the one who speaks (horizontal) and the one who analyzes and interprets (horseshoe). I will focus more on the the horseshoe trajectory and touch on the horizontal one near the end of this post.

Before we proceed to Graph II, I would like to point out the two junction points where the horseshoe crosses through the horizontal trajectory. These two junctions are important because the first one represent the “filtering” where the subject is mediated through the “treasure trove of signifiers” (symbolic language; Other) to formulate meaning. The first junction is where the subject produces “split subjectivity” by being mediated through language. It is here, where we first encounter the symbolic Other and the “filter” (or train station). As we will see, the Other is represented as “A” (Autre in French) in Graph II:

Graph II

Graph II

The new bottom section of the graph is basically a visual representation of the mirror stage. “i(a)” is the image of the other person (alter ego) or the person that I share my experiences with when I have conversations with them (notice how it is a one way movement from right to left). Such experiences, as I had already mentioned, is a relationship with my own ego (m) that is actually a relationship with the Other who defines the laws and meanings [s(A)] that I must live by (because as a split subject, I must be mediated through language). The relationship with the other person is a relationship with the split subject’s ego-ideal, which is the ideality given by the Other (A).

Recall from my last post when I said that it is not enough to see myself as an ideal human being because I need the approval of the Other. For example, I need lots of likes and approval by others on social media and my selfies because I need to live up to the Other’s expectations that I am a superstar hottie or pro nature photographer on Instagram. It is like looking at yourself in the mirror, but recognizing that there is also the other Other person who is unknowingly standing behind you and sees who you are in a certain way (parents, boss, girlfriend, boyfriend, strangers, government, police, social media, etc.). The symbolic ego-ideal is the recognition of an outside beyond who you are (m; ego) as you evaluate yourself (you judge yourself; recognize your insecurities because the Other sees you in certain ways since they are the one who represents the laws, etc.). This is why the image we uphold to ourselves is not who we really are. As split subjects, we are trying to satisfy the desires of the Other. In other words, we are upholding a certain narrative or image of what we imagine the Other sees in us (i.e. imagining what other people think of us). Later in Graph III, we will encounter this imagination as Lacan’s famous fantasy formula: $<>a.

Unlike Graph I, Graph II presents us with the response of the Other that is found through the matheme of s(A). Let us suppose that the horseshoe trajectory is a child who is responding to the demands of their (m)Other. Once the split subject gets filtered through the Other (A), they acquire the Other’s response of s(A). This leads to a complex relationship between the subject’s demand and the Other’s response. Another way to put it is that s(A) is the meaning created by the other (Other) that the subject interprets from their response (their chain significations from the horizontal trajectory).

I think there are at least two ways of reading this movement from A [Other]—>s(A) [Other’s meaning] —> I(A) [ego-ideal]. The first consists of the relationship between the infant who demands their needs from the mother that takes position as the Other (only later in the infant’s life does the Other transform into the symbolic language and the laws of society). An example of this would be the infant who demands milk and love from the (m)Other by crying. The response that the (m)Other makes (horizontal trajectory) is to tell the child and offer them milk or her breast. However, as the infant grows older, they realize that the mother cannot offer the kind of love that she offers to her father because the law prohibits incest (Lacan’s maternal and paternal figures, just like femininity and masculinity, are positions that the subject takes—they are not restricted to biology). As a result, the infant’s demand for love becomes an impossibility—it becomes the remainder which transforms into an unconscious desire that makes the child ask: what does the (m)Other want? Or simply, what do I need to do in order to receive love from her?

This is why, in the adult split subject, desire is not just about the object that the split subject desires (their romantic partners, etc.). Unconscious desire traces all the way back to the infant’s desire for the sexual love that the Other did not want and cannot give. Certainly, the split subject is not conscious of this idea, because they have already repressed such thought into their unconscious. Hence, desire is never about the object of¬†desire because it is the relationship with what is missing that is causing the split subject to desire. I have provided an example of this in my last post about a man who desires a woman, but what is causing him to desire this woman is not the woman but the lack that he does not consciously recognize (object a).

The second interpretation comes from the idea that, since the split subject must always pass through the Other’s discourse and express their demands through language, their demands are never completely expressed and therefore, cannot be met. This leads to the same outcome of never figuring out what the Other wants because one has already gone through the Other’s discourse. Furthermore, the ways which the split subject interprets the Other’s response also involves castration (filtering) and are influenced by their unconscious desires that can never be satisfied. The way we read Lacan for example, always leaves us with something left to desire in his work. There is always more meaning to extrapolate from his texts. This is also true to say, our interpretation of literature and life events.

Desire is the surplus of demand. Desire is what remains when demand fails to be completely satisfied because the mother cannot offer the child the love she offers to her father. Desire is also found when the split subject fails to make their demands through language. Demand is related to our needs. Such as our need for food. Desire is what separates humans from animals. As humans, we don’t just demand to eat, we also desire for objects that has nothing to do with our biological needs.

Since desire is the surplus / remainder of demand, the enjoyment that comes from the satisfaction of desire is partial. Enjoyment is only experienced partially after the subject has been mediated through the symbolic law (after the subject has been filtered and mediated through language and what they are permitted to consciously desire). A classic example: since the first symbolic law states that I cannot copulate with my mother, father and siblings (for Freud, the first law is the prohibition of incest), I can only unknowingly sublimate theses desires to my future partner and other objects that I encounter in my life. The only real¬†and impossible form of pleasure that can¬†never be completely experienced is what Lacan famously calls “jouissance” which translates into “enjoyment” or “orgasm”. Through desire, we can only receive the remainder of jouissance (we will return to this later on once we get to the sex drive). The split subject cannot experience jouissance at its fullest potential because they are always filtered through the symbolic Other. This is why jouissance is related to the real (of what Lacan famously calls “lalangue” or the mother tongue). The symbolic is what paradoxically grants and prohibits jouissance.

Nevertheless, Graph II shows us that in many cases, the Other responds and offers meaning to the split subject as they pass through the horizontal trajectory through A and s(A), which produces the I(A). In this case, the subject recognizes the Other’s desires and tries to fulfill the ego-ideal image that the Other imposes upon the subject, such as trying to live up to the Other’s demands. Clean your room! Become a doctor! Become a rich capitalist! Live up to your own self image defined by your new Other as social media! Hence, as I mentioned last post, the subject’s desire is the Other’s desire. As I gaze through social media, it tells me what I should desire to become (to gather lots of likes from people, take mirror selfies, share memes, be cool, etc.) [now, think of this under the context of marketing, advertisement or political correctness].

The horseshoe trajectory (the arrow) in Graph II is a representation of our demand which gets filtered into desire when the child recognizes that the sexual love they seek from their parents is not possible. By passing through the Other (A), the split subject recognizes this, but still unconsciously desires for such occurance. Thus, they unknowingly seek for it through their interactions with other people (i.e. in their future romantic partners, friends, or objects that they buy, etc.). This is why you might notice how couples will often have partners who, in some ways, resemble people from their family or someone from their past relationships. This can either be really obvious or not at all. This is because we are all unique individuals (split subjects) who makes different identifications with the Other which attracts and arouses us. It can be something as obscure as one of Freud’s patient who was obsessed with the shine on a woman’s nose—a shine that no others can see except for himself. There are also instances where you might notice how couples look like each other. In this case, there is a chance that they are narcissists. Although I must point out that narcissism is actually part of human relationships because we relate to the image of the other (Other) with ourselves (this is what makes identical twins interesting). For example, I see similarities between myself and the other person when I have conversations with them, so we become friends. This is why I once said that our relationship with other people is actually a form of fantasy relation with ourselves. Everything functions like a mirror (recall in the mirror stage: “the other person in the mirror is me!”).

The transformation from demand to desire leaves us with an important question that all psychoanalysts seeks to answer: What does the Other want? In Lacanian analysis, it is about figuring out this conflict between the Other and the unconscious desire of the split subject. The difference lies between what the subject wants versus what the Other wants from them. What does the Other want to say? What if the Other never tells us who we are? What happens when the employee does not know what the boss demands? Or when the subject does not know what they want or who they are because the Other does not offer any response? What happens when what we want from the Other can never be acquired because our demands cannot be met?

But because there is no absolute answer to the Other’s desire that desire will endlessly re-manifest itself into different objects through our drives, such as our romantic partner, the new commodity we just bought. I can for example, desire to buy this new car because I unconsciously identify it with my mother. Yet, after buying this car, I stop desiring for it overtime because I realized that this is not what I actually desired because I unconsciously wanted my mother. Keep in mind that I am using the classic Freudian example for my own amusement. In practice, our unconscious desires could be many other things (but it usually has something to do with our childhood experience with our parents).

We now have sufficient information to understand Graph III:


Graph III

What we see in the new upper section of this graph is the introduction of “d” which represents desire as the remainder or surplus of demand after it passes through the Other. This new graph is relatively straight forward in the sense that it is trying to suggest what happens when the Other provides no response to the subject’s demand—which is all the time because we are castrated / filtered subjects who are mediated through language. Hence Lacan writes “Che vuoi?” meaning “What do you want?”—or, “What do I need to do to satisfy the desire of the Other?”

Furthermore, I believe the upper section of this graph also represents what occurs unconsciously. It takes place beyond the signifiers of the Other deep within the split subject’s mind. To put this in another way, the upper section takes place beyond the reader’s interpretation of this sentence as it happens unconsciously. We can see that there are two arrows that split from the Other (A). The outer arrow loops and points towards $ (split subject). The inner arrow points towards object a. Together they form $<>a which is the symbol for fantasy.

For the sake of simplicity, I will say that because the split subject does not know what the Other wants, they must imagine or fantasize the Other’s desire. Object a¬†appears in this fantasy formula because my desire as the split subject is the fantasy of what the Other desires for me (remember from last post, desire is produced through object a). Simply ask yourself, what do you fantasize about? My desire and fantasy comes from the Other’s desire. Yet, I always misunderstand or misrecognize the Other’s desire because I am always already a split subject. This is why our dreams offers us a way of understanding our unconscious mind because it is related to our primal fantasy and the Other’s desire. The analyst’s job is to help the analysand “traverse” this primal fantasy.

Let us move into the final form of the graph:

Graph IV

Graph of Desire (Completed)

In Graph of Desire, Lacan introduces the formula for drive as $<>D (D is for demand), and S(A) which implies the lack of symbolic meaning within the signifying chain (there is no Other of the Other). Remember that every time we speak, parts of who we are is revealed through language, and the repressed material goes missing. S(A) represents what is missing from the signifying language which makes the split subject ask “What does the Other want?”. From the reader’s perspective, it is the question of what your unconscious mind is trying to say as you are filtered (castrated) through these words (i.e. what does the meaning you extract from this text inform you about your Other?). Notice how after desire (horseshoe arrow) passes through the lack of symbolic meaning of the Other S(A), we get to fantasy $<>a which involves fantasizing what the Other wants. Because the Other lacks a signifier (i.e. I don’t know what the Other wants), I fantasize what the Other wants. This fantasy moves down the graph and resurfaces as the Other’s response / meaning of s(A) [even when we do not know what the Other wants because we are split subjects—hence our desires are often a misrecognition of the Other’s desires].

In my last post, I explained Slavoj Zizek’s joke on “coffee without cream” and how the missing content of the coffee constitutes our perception of the coffee. I also explained Lacan’s interpretation of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story called “Purloined Letter” and how the stolen letter functions as a lack by which all other signifiers surrounds it like a vortex. Both coffee without cream and the empty content of the letter is represented by the signifier of the lack of signifier. In this case, S(A) is the signifier of the lack of signifier. This is where we encounter Lacan’s controversial “phallic signifier” (—Ą) which is related to the “name-of-the-father”, “paternal metaphor”, and the formation of sexual difference known as “sexuation” (found here, from Seminar XX on feminine sexuality). In fact, it would be na√Įve for me to not elaborate on sexuation because a big chunk of psychoanalysis is about sexuality.

Basically, the phallic signifier (—Ą) shares a paradoxical relationship with the lack of the Other S(A)—the lack of the phallus—namely, the feminine. The signifier (—Ą) of the lack of signifier (-—Ą) is the phallic signifier (—Ą). This is why in the sexuation graph, Lacan crosses out the La as in “the woman” because feminine sexuality can exceed the limitations of the phallic signifier and take position as the name-of-the-father. This is known as the “Other jouissance” which characterizes “feminine writing” and feminine sexuality in general (Helene CixousThe Laugh of the Medusa is a good example of feminine writing; James Joyce’s Ulysses is another good example). There is however, a certain way of reading Lacan where it appears like he privileges the phallic signifier. This suggests that all symbolic languages that the subject mediates through are fundamentally phallic and masculine (patriarchal) which follows Freud’s phallocentrism. This interpretation situates Lacanian psychoanalysis into gender politics and it is part of what made him controversial. However, I would say that this is a misreading of Lacan. Slavoj Zizek is quite famous for addressing this misreading (here). For now, I will not go into the details of sexuation because it is another difficult topic.

Regardless, let us return to the Graph of Desire. If we continue to follow the horseshoe trajectory, notice how this missing signifier of S(A) appears after it passes through the Other (the filter; A) and drive ($<>D). After desire is produced from the surplus of demand, it is recognized within $<>D, or the drives of the split subject. Basically, drive is another word for sex drive (libido) which shouldn’t always be thought under the context of copulation. This is because there are many things in life that offers “enjoyment” such as happiness, listening to music, reading, writing or speaking—basically anything that gives us pleasure.

For Lacan, all drives are partial which represents partial objects that attracts and arouses the split subject (common examples would be the breast, gaze, voice, etc.). In this sense, it is through these partial drives where we recognize our desires. But because conscious desire arises from being filtered through the symbolic, the drives can never reach its goal since it is not what the split subject unconsciously desires. Drives can only circulate around object a (i.e. the lack / unknown repressed material). Another reason that drives never reaches its goal is because its functions are a bit “mechanical”. The drive is like a circuit, or train tracks which involves having the libidinal energy push the train (subject) through the station / filter. It consists of—as we will later see—a form of repetition. It is like listening to your favorite song on repeat which offers you partial jouissance. You can never get enough of the partial enjoyment that it offers.

Finally, let us read the top horizontal trajectory which moves from Jouissance –> S(A) —>¬† $<>D —> Castration. This trajectory is important not only because it is the visual representation of castration from the perspective of the subject who speaks, it is important because it mimics the chain signification of the lower portion that moves from Signifier —> Voice. This upper unconscious trajectory points out how speaking and the creation of meaning which is the result of filtering, prohibition via symbolic, still allows for a certain level of enjoyment satisfaction.

This is why Lacan once famously said that speaking is like having sexual intercourse. We gain enjoyment and satisfaction from talking to other people which traces back to our relationship with the Other (Lacan’s statement also has to do with the concept of “sublimation” where we take something that is inappropriate and turn it into something socially acceptable; i.e. jokes). Furthermore, this top horizontal movement from jouissance to castration also emphasizes on what is missing [S(A)] is also paradoxically found within our drives $<>D as the symptom.

Once again, I pointed out that every time we speak, part of our subjectivity is found in language, and the unconscious desire goes missing. The things we say is the symptom of our unconscious desires. Hence, language consists of a negative (-1) and positive (+1) dimension. This formulation is represented through S(A) [lack] which consists of a -1, and $<>D [drive] that carries the +1 of the signifier. It is also recognized through sexuation of the -1 / the lack of phallic signifier, and the +1 of a phallic signifier. Simply put, the top horizontal trajectory emphasizes on the partial drives that motivates the split subject to speak (their desire to speak). It is through the signifiers of the Other—such as what is said through symbolic language by the split subject (the symptom)—where we recognize the effects of their unconscious mind.

What got Lacan banned from the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA) comes from the way he attempts to make specific “cuts” through the analysand’s (patient) free association. Lacan achieves this by interrupting the double movement between the conscious Signifier —> Voice and the unconscious Jouissance —> Castration. Here, the cut is an attempt for the analyst to help the analysand produce new ways of thinking and restructure their unconscious patterns (new train tracks, new circuit). It must be noted that these interruptions and cuts that the Lacanian analyst makes are not random. The analyst is aware of the analysand’s unconscious patterns via free association (i.e. the way they speak).


Essentially, Lacan is trying to formulate ways to address what lies beyond the symbolic signifying language. Humans are not only conscious talking animals, they are unconscious subjects. This is what separates humans from artificial intelligence. It makes films like Ex-Machina fascinating because it emphasizes on human attempts to assign sexuality to robots. Humans are sexual beings where sexual difference is inscribed at the heart of the split subject as a form of contradiction: between the -1 and +1 of signification (of what is signified through language and what is missing in it). All beings are sexual. This is why sexuation is such an important component to Lacanian psychoanalysis. There is no such thing as a being who is emptied of their sexuality.

All of this takes us to the dialogues between gender theorists and psychoanalysts. I won’t get too much into this today, but it can be seen in the famous debate between Slavoj Zizek and Judith Butler that took place in the 90s. Their differences lies in their views on how subjects are related to the symbolic. Butler’s theory of gender performativity reduces the Lacanian symbolic into performative acts which challenges the privileged gendered acts that are enforced by history and social laws (gender as a social construct). By producing new performative acts through the symbolic, Butler thinks it could disrupt existing symbolic laws. For Zizek, Butler creates their arguments at the expense of forgetting that the performative acts which seeks to disrupt dominant symbolic acts are part of the symbolic Other. In other words, “liberating” performative acts is also the product of the symbolic Other who restricts such liberation. The performative subject who is supposed to challenge symbolic norms is found within the limitations of the Other and the split subject. Alenka Zupancic explains these differences very well in her book What is Sex?¬†[p. 39-44].

With this aside, there are many concepts that I didn’t get to include in this post such as the concepts of sadism, masochism, fetishism, and perversion. Enjoyment (jouissance) is not restricted to ideological norms such as happiness. It could be things that causes us pain and suffering. In fact, Lacan relates jouissance to a form of suffering. Jouissance is a big complicated concept that deserves specialized attention because it is related to Freud’s infamous concept known as the “death drive” and “repetition compulsion” (from a book called, Beyond the Pleasure Principle). Jouissance is a form of repetition that can be experienced through partial drives. Remember that the partial drives are “mechanical” because it constantly repeats—like replaying your favorite song or film. The reason you replay it is because you are always only partially satisfied. You can never get enough of it. There is always something left to desire.

While jouissance cannot be fully recognized, its presence can be experienced in bits and pieces through speech and writing. But because we are always castrated speaking subjects who are prohibited by the laws of the symbolic Other, we can never fully experience jouissance. Jouissance is like the engine of desire that gets filtered through the symbolic and are found with our partial drives as it circulates the object cause of desire (a). The closer we are to object a (or pure jouissance), the more anxious we get because this is where we encounter our primal repression where no symbolic language can represent (this is what Lacan refer as the “Real” in every sense of the word).

Perhaps some of you might ask whether or not Lacanian psychoanalysis actually works—or whether any forms of psychoanalysis works at all. The short answer is that it works, but it takes a lot of time. Different analysts also have different psychoanalytic orientations and approaches. Freudians, Kleinians (Melanie Klein, who significantly influenced Lacan), and Post-Kleinians are usually the most common. Lacanian analysts are rare in the clinical circle because Lacan got banned from the IPA. There certainly are practicing Lacanian analysts such as Jacques Alain-Miller and Bruce Fink (both are super well known in the Lacanian circle). In general, psychoanalysis is a niche discipline that studies the unconscious mind. It is significantly more popular in France and other European countries. In North America, the scientific methods such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) are much more popular choices. There are also other things that makes clinical psychoanalysis not as popular as CBT and ACT. First, psychoanalysis is really intense because you have to meet with the analyst 2-3 times a week. This means that second, it gets really expensive and not many people can afford it. We also have to factor in compatibility because the analysand must feel comfortable with the analyst since they have to open up to them.

There are also other psychoanalytic concepts that needs to be accounted for in a clinical setting, such as transference and counter-transference which is another major component of psychoanalysis. In a clinical setting, it is the analysand who directs the sessions, not the analyst. The analyst sits behind the analysand to avoid transference. In Part III, I talk about the function of transference and elaborate Freud’s famous idea on how “psychoanalysis is a cure through love”.

The type of psychoanalysis that most scholars study are often referred as “theoretical psychoanalysis” which is a little different to “clinical psychoanalysis”. The obvious difference is that a clinical analyst won’t be like “hey, you actually want to sleep with your mother” (not very therapeutic). In reality, the clinical analyst’s job is to identify and restructure the analysand’s unconscious patterns, defense mechanisms, and help relieve other problems that the analysand may experience (i.e. trauma, etc). Psychoanalysis holds the view that we are all neurotics simply because we are unconscious to what the Other wants. It’s just that some of us are more neurotic than others. This leads to interesting questions such as whether or not if there is such thing as someone who is “mentally healthy”. Regardless, the psychoanalyst’s goal is to reduce your neurotic symptoms by studying your unconscious thought patterns, primal fantasy and engage with the dialectics of desire.

Commentaries, Contemplation

Recalling Lost Memories: Deconstruction, Decolonization and Black Slavery

Last night, I woke up at 2:30am where I was reminded of an event that occurred three years ago, when I was unofficially auditing university courses (2016-2017ish). At the time, I was a ghost, a specter, who lived inside the classrooms of my local university. Of course, nobody knew I wasn’t an official student categorized by the institution. In fact, I fit in quite well. Nobody knew I was a ghost, but that was the point. However, I will admit that my feelings of exclusion still remains till this day at a certain level. This is probably due to my strange set of specialized knowledge that not many people understand. It is a set of knowledge that I live by in practice because I consider myself a Derridean in certain ways. But what does being a Derridean even mean? I have a new post on Derrida that I will share in a few days / next week. It will talk about communication and differences in relationship with nature, culture, and writing (you can find it here).

At my local university, I sat in many philosophy classes that spoke about a diverse range of subjects. I read G.W.F. Hegel, Barbara Cassin, Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, Martin Heidegger, Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer, Simone de Beauvoir, and many more. I also attended film theory courses and learnt how the movie theater is basically a replication of Plato’s cave. The professor for this film theory class was very kind to me. She bought me coffee and made me felt like I belonged somewhere. She was a Heideggerian film scholar and we spoke a lot about one of my favorite authors: Roland Barthes.

Out of all these classes, I audited a big two-semester length 300 level course on literary theory with a professor who is now my supervisor for my Master’s research project. I was surprised that he was so supportive of me and my personal intellectual endeavors in doing my masters. But he was also surprised at how much I knew about Derrida when I let him read some of my writings on him. This writing became my sample essay for grad applications.

I remembered during one of our lectures on post-colonialism, a TA (Teaching Assistant; PhD student) did a presentation on Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. I remembered a line where he confidently said:

“Deconstruction leads to decolonization.”

No offense, the first thing that popped up in my mind was whether he read enough of Derrida because the claim was bold and in my humble opinion, not “entirely” possible (will get to this). His statement made me wonder if he really understood deconstruction because he spoke of deconstruction as if it was a method, even when it isn’t. He also spoke of deconstruction as if it had a specific telos¬†(end goal; i.e. to decolonize), which is not true at all since it utilizes “free play”. Strangely enough, this notion of free play does have decolonizing motifs because it is related to Claude Levis-Strauss’ book, The Savage Mind and his concept of “bricolage”.

I guess maybe he wasn’t expecting that a Derridean super nerd would be sitting among one hundred students in the lecture theater, silently judging him on his readings on one of the most esoteric thinkers of 20th century (Lol). To be sure, I’ve met many people who misread Derrida—including myself and other professors. In fact, I would say that Derrida is one of the most loved, hated, and misunderstood intellectual figures of 20th century. This leads to a question that I will talk about in my next post: “What is misunderstanding?”.

Regardless, this bold claim made by the TA relates to my current graduate seminar that I am enrolled in which talks about marginalized people. Earlier in the semester, we read a book called The Hanging of Angelique by Afua Cooper where she spoke about a story of a real Canadian black slave woman named Angelique. At the end of the book, Cooper talks about black liberation and how they were able to get proper education and share their slave narratives through (phonetic) writing.

Perhaps one can already see where the problem lies: Can a marginalized person of color proclaim their liberation by speaking through the language of their colonizers? 

I’m pretty sure those who are familiar with my numerous readings of Derrida that I’ve done on this blog could predict that I was going to ask this question. In fact, it was Spivak who first proposed this problem in her famous essay: “Can the Subalterns Speak?”. In it, she recognizes this very problem where in order for the voices of marginalized people to be heard, they must speak through the language of their colonizers. Of course, this is not always the case—especially when colonizers learn the marginalized language and attempts to understand their identities, cultures and traditions. But it certainly feels like the latter is less likely than the former in our increasingly globalized world.

Spivak’s claims are assuming that language influences the way we see the world. Thus in order to answer this question, one must consider whether language changes how we experience time (or how we think in general). Let us for the moment, take a look at one of the most famous linguistic theories known as Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Those who had watched the film Arrival would know what the theory is about. The hypothesis suggests that language influences the way humans experience time. This theory began by studying the Hopi language (Google, “Hopi controversy”) and was later proven to be false by other linguists. Recently however, there had been linguists who suggests that language does influence how we perceive time, but not in the way Sapir and Whorf had thought.

But there is a more cultural and historical dimension to language that we must consider. This is the idea that the words within language consists of many historical implications which establishes its meaning as such. I am thinking in particular to the etymologies of words. Language carries specific strands of histories within it. As we speak the language, we are also in a way, practicing its culture, its play between words, etc.

Another consideration is through the complicated psychoanalytic dimensions. For those who read my Lacanian post on the wound of split subjectivity, speaking and writing requires the subject to “give up” or “repress” their desires in order to fit into the laws of whatever language that they are articulating. Thus, the so called “liberated” subject is in fact, filtered through the Symbolic Other. In this sense, slave narratives are deeply related to repression and the unconscious mind.

There is also another area that we should consider: the act of interpretation and how meanings are formed through differences within contextual structures. Obviously, this consideration is referencing Derrida, which takes us back to alluding Spivak (there are other great thinkers in this field such as Homi Bhabha and Edward Said that I won’t talk about here). For Derrida, meanings are produced in between words. This is why people often talk about deconstruction through “binary oppositions” because it is in between author / reader, speech / writing, etc. which produces meaning. I will talk more about this in my next post. But if we look at slave narratives from a Derridean perspective, the problem is that on one hand, the English language functions as their medium for liberation because they are able to express their stories (to be sure, this is certainly a good thing—at least on a practical level). But on the other hand, the English language usurps the subject by forcing them to practice a linguistic culture that is not their own. And is it strange that I am writing this post in English, even when I am Chinese? I have lots to say about this, but I don’t have time right now.

Last but not least, we should consider my current topic of interest / research: critical race theory. Especially the works by Fred Moten who I am currently obsessed with because I think he is an incredible thinker—particularly on sound theory. In Black and Blur¬†(2017), Moten’s first chapter is titled “Not in Between” and the first sentence began with “Remembering the Present”. I smirked when I first read these because I was able to predict what he was going to say in regards to Derrida and people like Hegel. For your information, “Remembering the Present” means to remember the “present (past)” from “the future” (to come)—a Derridean allusion that Moten later indirectly addresses. In this book (and also in In the Break that I am currently reading), Moten makes an incredibly bold move in an attempt to shift beyond Derridean differences by pointing out what he calls “nonhesitation” or “improvisation” in between written sounds (words) [this improvisation is most prominently found in Jazz music which comes from African culture]. As mentioned, for Derrida, meaning is produced in between words. For Moten, the “African Voice” is produced “not-in-between” differences, but as a (radical) radical alterity beyond differences via the grammatical ruptures of written sounds and the spacings between them. Here, I enjoy the way he uses the word “spacing” because I don’t see many scholars utilize its importance, despite it being a prominent Derridean theme found in Of Grammatology.

As we can see, there are many theoretical problems that one must overcome in order to answer the (post)colonial question that I proposed. I spoke about some of these problems to my MA supervisor and he giggled at me saying that I won’t solve them in a graduate seminar due to its sheer difficulty. He was right. I am still in the middle of a lot of these ideas. But there is a very high chance that I will be writing about Fred Moten and his¬† relationship with literature and slave narratives for my final research paper in this class.

Anyways, I should get back to work.


Commentaries, Contemplation, Popular Posts

Lacanian Psychoanalysis: The Mirror Stage and the Wound of Split Subjectivity

‚ÄúI always speak the truth. Not the whole truth, because there’s no way to say it all. Saying it all is literally impossible: words fail. Yet it is through this very impossibility that the truth holds onto the real.‚ÄĚ —Jacques Lacan

Psychoanalysis attempts to study the way we perceive reality by engaging with the structure of the unconscious “Other” (super-ego) which influences our consciousness. Psychoanalysis also studies the fundamentals of our desires that has been repressed into the unconscious mind. The tricky part is to understand how the study of desire is closely associated with language, such as the desire to write or read this text. The most difficult aspect of understanding Lacan’s psychoanalytical writings—especially his seminars—is that the text does not privilege itself. In other words, Lacan applies his psychoanalytical ideas into his own writing as he tries to explain them. Since the reader (you) is a human being with an unconscious mind, he wants to make them experience the psychoanalytical discourse as they interpret the structure of symbolic language.

As such, the reader (you), who begins to recognize their desire is, in reality, their (your) desire for the recognition of desire as such. Without desire, one would not be able to recognize desire which grants the possibility of psychoanalysis, or any forms of discourse (i.e. science, philosophy and the desire for “truth”). Therefore, we can say that to psychoanalyze is to “desire¬†desire desire”: to desire the intricacies of desire and how it desires an object. The act of speaking and writing is a form of desire (i.e. to communicate, pass on knowledge and relate to “others”). The paradox that we will see is how the desire to speak and write—the desire to articulate symbolic language is a form of repression, and therefore the symptom of the unconscious mind.¬†¬†

Today, I will use everyday examples to talk about split subjectivity and some of the relationships between the “Ideal-Ego” and “Ego-Ideal” that is established in Lacan’s “mirror stage”. I will also introduce Lacan’s famous “Schema L” diagram and discuss some of its contents as this post progresses. Although I tried to tailor this post towards general audience, I think it might be more difficult than some of my other writings on Lacan.

There is a part II and part III of my writings on psychoanalysis.
Part II talks about Lacan’s famous “Graph of Desire” which can be found here.
Part III talks about love and the limits of human knowledge that can be found here.
Part IV talks about death drive and reality that can be found here.

Last edited: January 9, 2020. Revised some of the paragraphs and clarified some sentences.


The Borromean Knot

When the baby is born, the first thing they encounter is the “Real” which consists of chaotic fragments that surrounds them. The mother is the first figure who takes position of the “Other” (super-ego), where the child tries to figure out what it is that she wants with all the gestures that she makes (“what does the (m)Other want?”). When the infant reach 18 months, they begin to not only recognize themselves in the mirror as “me”, but as the “other” person (“the other person in the mirror is me!”). During this time, the infant develops the “Imaginary” through the recognition of themselves in the mirror which constitutes the “Ideal-Ego” (ego = “I”).¬†But as the child gets older, not only do they establish themselves in relation with their imaginary Ideal-Ego (this image I see in the mirror is who I am—as ideality), but in relationship with other people—namely, his/her relation with their parents.¬†This “Symbolic” relation with others which consists of the dimensions of the social, law and language, is what constitutes the “Ego-Ideal”.

It is through the child’s relationship with others where they develop the symbolic ego-ideal. As they establish their relationship with others, they begin to learn what they can and cannot do (i.e. the parents will say they cannot eat this or that, they must follow house rules, etc.). The child must give up certain parts of what they conceived as their imaginary ideal-ego¬†in order to enter the symbolic, which revolves around relationships with other people.¬†This “giving up” of self is what Lacan calls the “split subject” (or “barred subject”, often represented as “S” with a line crossed through it). It is like starting a new job and learning all the policies of the company where the subject is forced into certain structural relations with others (co-workers, boss, etc.) while repressing their unfulfilled desires into the unconscious (i.e. to establish work etiquette; they cannot do this or that while working, etc.). Another example might be to think of a time where we desired to say something that would offend another person, but we end up not saying it because of the disapproval by social etiquette and others.

The symbolic is like a filter where the ideal-ego must pass through to create the split subject. This filter gets to “choose” and pick what part of the subject is acceptable when they engage with other people in society. In fact, the symbolic, as we will later see, is what constitutes subjectivity. In order to establish social relationship with other people, the infant is¬†forced to give up on certain pleasures that they always had, such as certain relationships with their mother (i.e. sucking on mother’s breast, etc.). By “giving up” on such relations, they are repressing these thoughts into their unconscious. This is why the Other is always a woman, since the desire for the Mother is the first thing that gets repressed into the unconscious. The subject’s symbolic relations with other people is a relationship with their own Other (repressed unconscious desires) which—if one traces far enough—goes all the way back to the mother. As the child gets older, they move from the ideal-ego towards the ego-ideal, who gives up parts of themselves in order to enter the symbolic which shapes the split subject (i.e. they enter and participate in the laws of society). This occurance sets out the movement from the imaginary ideal-ego: my ideal self that I see in the mirror as perfection; to the symbolic ego-ideal: once I consider my relationship with others, I am not the ideal human being that I imagined myself to be, since such ideality can only be determined through the agreement with others.¬†

We can recognize the split subject in Lacan’s “Seminar on the Purloined Letter” where he famously analyzes Edgar Allen Poe’s detective short story called, “The Purloined Letter”. In the narrative, a secret letter is stolen from the Queen by the Minister, which in turn is stolen by the detective. The letter which was stolen twice goes through three characters who had already established their relationship with each other and developed their split subjectivity. This letter gets stolen when the Other (person) is not looking. While the Queen turns her back, the Minister steals it, and as the Minister turns his back, the detective purloins it. The point is to emphasize on the way the subjects / characters are constituted through their relationship with others as they avoid the symbolic Other from seeing them steal the letter (breaking the law). We will return to this later on.

Taking all of these pedagogical examples in mind, we now understand the fundamentals of split subjectivity. Just like our relationship with other people, the structure of language also consists of rules and laws (i.e. grammar, syntax, lexicon, etc.) where the subject is forced into its system to create the ego-ideal. Instead of social structures or relations with others, we also have the system of language which also functions like a filter. Therefore, since certain aspects of the subject’s ideal-ego are given up as they articulate language, what is given up on becomes the “lack”¬†within language. It is through the splitting of the subject (or giving up) where language forms. Thus, where there is language, there is also the lack of language—i.e. a “negative” (unconsious) side to language, a “-1”. There is something in language that is missing / given up on from splitting the subject. When the subject speaks, parts of their ego appears as language, and the repressed material goes missing. All of this happens unconsciously without the subject’s awareness. In other words, the ego which can be recognized through language is the symptom of the split subject because it is a filter of the ideal-ego into the ego as such. In this sense, one can think of how our entire society functions as the symptom. Civilization is created through the splitting of the subject. One can say that the biggest symptom is society itself (we are basically a bunch of talking animals).

This filtering, splitting, or “giving up” that we have been talking about is formally known as “castration complex” (or in Freudian terms as the “Oedipus Complex”—there are significant differences between Lacan and Freud’s version of castration). It is also this relationship between the split subject and the unconscious ways they interact with their lack which constitutes the experience of anxiety. For Lacan, castration is the symbolic lack of the imaginary signifier. To be sure, the mirror stage does not only occur during childhood, but continues until death. Hence, castration is never complete. The splitting of the subject always takes place every time we engage with symbolic language or society—which is pretty much all the time in our daily lives. The symbolic language becomes the symptom of castration because it takes the place of what lacks / repressed. Language is the symptom of the Other’s desire—of what we truly desire by concealing this lack within its own system (i.e. speech / writing). And of course, if we ask Freud what the split subject really desires, he would tell us that we unconsciously desire our mother. Within the Freudian discourse, the prohibition of incest is the first symbolic law that is imposed on us.

Lacan says, “it is not man who constitutes language, but language that constitutes man”. It is through what has been repressed / given up on within language which not only marks the field of the Other (unconscious), but determines how the split subject interprets and situates themselves within the language before them—such as how you are reading this text. Lacan points out, “I identify myself in language, but only by losing myself in it like an object”. In other words, the relationship with our own lack / repressed desires influences the way we interpret and articulate speech or written objects—just like the objects and people around us in reality. The split subject (you) are forced into this text (discourse) as you read it (you are filtered and split through this text). What gets repressed in the unconscious will unknowingly reveal itself through language which functions as the symptom of repression (i.e. the meaning you extract from this text). When we speak / write, one is speaking about their own repressions. Lack is what constitutes the split subject altogether—namely, subjectivity (or ego).

The most confusing part is that, once the subject gets split and filtered through the symbolic, their relationship with their own lack and repressed desires can only be imagined and recognized through the ego, which is witnessed as a language after the subject had already split. This is why Lacan famously said that “the unconscious is structured like a language”. The ego (i.e. subjectivity) is the symptom of the unconscious which reveals itself through language. The desires which had been repressed into the unconscious Other can only be imagined, but never accessed through consciousness (it is called “unconscious” simply because we are never aware of it). As seen in Lacan’s “Schema L” diagram, the subject’s relations (S) with “other” people (remember: “the other person is me!”) is in close relation with their own imaginary ego (“me!”; “I”) which has been split and influenced by the Other (the lack / repressed desires). A simple example is to think of how we relate to “others” when we have a conversation with them. If I wish to connect with someone, I must find ways to relate to their experiences with my own. This relationship that the subject establishes with the other is actually a relationship with their own imaginary ego (i.e. their own experiences) which functions as a symptom that is associated with the Other.


Schema L

Since it is lack which constitutes subjectivity, one of the main goals of Lacanian psychoanalysis is to figure out this missing part through the subject’s relationship with the symbolic. We can see this with the popular example from Slavoj Zizek’s joke about a guy who walks into a restaurant and asks: “Coffee without cream please.”, the waiter responds: “I am sorry sir, we are out of cream, could it be without milk?”. The gist of the joke is to emphasize on the word, “without”. Here, we have the symbolic signifier, “without” (as you read it), which symbolically signifies an imaginary “without” that is missing from its signification. What is missing (milk or cream) in the coffee constitutes the coffee and changes how the subject perceives it. It is like drinking distilled water without knowing someone spat in it. But once you realize it, your entire perception of the cup of water changes. On one hand, to articulate the word “without” is to refer to something missing. On the other hand, the moment the word “without” gets articulated through language, it is no longer “without”, since it becomes the symbolic signifier that represents something that is “without”. The word “without” functions like a metonymy for another missing signifier. This is why in Alenka Zupancic’s book, What is Sex?, she refers “without” as “with-without”: the coffee without cream / milk will always include a “without”—namely, a lack which constitutes it. It is the missing spit in the water that constitutes our perceptions of the water, not the cleanliness of distilled water.

In the same way, the split subject and their articulation of speech always includes a lack which constitutes them. This unconscious lack¬†(repressed desires, sublimation, etc.) structures the “other side” of the split subject and is famously associated with what Lacan calls, “objet petit a” (object little a), or the “object cause of desire”, insofar that the subject desires such lack, whatever it might be (i.e. when the subject desires what they have repressed in their unconscious). Object “a” is not the object of desire, but an elusive phantom object that unconsciously¬†causes the conscious subject¬†to desire for the object. For example, a man is dating a woman who functions as his object of desire, even when what is unconsciously¬†causing him to desire this woman is due to how he is unconsciously in love with himself and he is unknowingly associating various signs of her with himself (narcissism) [or, we can use the classic Freudian example where we all unconsciously desire our mother]. The point is that the split subject’s desire is the Other’s desire—it is the unconscious super ego’s desire. This is one of the reasons why the psychoanalyst sits behind / out of sight of the patient during a therapy session. The analyst functions as object a¬†as the patient free associates and¬†desires (a) to figure out their ego which appears as their symptom (in Schema L, notice how the ego is placed in brackets beside object¬†a).

Nevertheless. it is this lack which allows for the possibility of Rene Descartes’ famous line: “I think therefore I am”. But since the symbolic paradoxically conceals the subject’s repressed desires by splitting the subject, Lacan famously says the opposite:

“I am thinking where I am not, therefore I am where I am not thinking . . . I am not, where I am the plaything of my thought; I think about what I am where I do not think I am thinking.” (Ecrits, 430).

The symbolic language filters the subject’s ideal-ego by forcing it to split while governing its subjectivity (i.e. what is allowed to pass through language and the law). Therefore, the subject who appears through symbolic language is not who the subject really is. Instead, it is through what is missing within language (repressed desires in unconscious, or desires that had been sublimated / diverted) which constitutes the subject. Once you become familiar with all the policies at your new job, you are defined by the company or institution (symbolic) that you work for—which we all know is not who you really are. Or, when the job interviewer requests you to, “Tell me about yourself”, you respond with, “I am XYZ and I think this contributes to the current job position that I am seeking”. Many of us are aware of how “fake” these interviews are because we filter our language and say things in certain ways in order to get the job. Only that in our psychic lives, we unknowingly do this all the time through our relationship with the symbolic (i.e. the rules in language and the laws of society).

In the same way, your subjectivity is represented by the structure of language as who you are (“I am Y”)—which isn’t who you really are. Yet paradoxically, language is the only way to articulate who you are. This is why, in The Title of the Letter, Lacan’s split subject is what Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe famously refer as, “the impossible subject”. The subject is forced into the symbolic within the field of the Other. On one hand, to articulate language is to produce subjectivity and set out a communicative discourse and relation with other people (i.e. to tell people who you are, obey laws like everyone else, etc.). On the other hand, the subjectivity / ego produced through language becomes the symptom of repressed desires: who you are via the articulation of symbolic language is not who you really are, but the product of a subjectivity that is “not-whole”. Ironically, we can even see this when the subject goes to see a psychologist who begins to categorize them via tests because you fit into the criteria of A, B or C. By doing this, they are forcing the subject into various symbolic structures.

This concealment of the lack in language can be seen in Poe’s “Purloined Letter”, where the contents of the stolen letter were never revealed. The entire narrative (such as its written signifying words) circulates around the missing information of the letter—namely, its lack. The stolen letter functions as the¬†signifier of the lack of signifier (just like “coffee without cream”). For Lacan, the reader’s experience as the split subject is exemplified by reading Poe’s story. I highly recommend you to read and experience it yourself (i.e. notice how as you read the story, your consciousness of the narrative circulates around this letter as the empty signifier like a vortex). In fact, Lacan’s “Seminar on the Purloined Letter” was so important that it was placed out of chronological order as the first essay in his one and only published book titled, Ecrits¬†(“writings”). Consequently, this out of chronological placement led to a sharp response by Jacques Derrida in a famous essay / lecture called “For the Love of Lacan!”, which was published in Resistances of Psychoanalysis¬†(also see Derrida’s, “The Purveyor of Truth”).

As we now know, the ideal-ego gives up parts of itself to establish social relationship with others and repress their unfulfilled desires, which becomes the symptom via language.¬†This is one of the reasons why desire can never be satisfied. The “thing” (“das Ding”; lack)¬†we desire will always be missing because it is repressed and concealed by symbolic language and/or within any objects that takes position as the subject’s unconscious desire. This missing thing (lack) which functions as the “objet petit¬†a”, traces back to the desire for the mother who must be given up on in order to enter the symbolic (like what Freud would say). Language which takes the place of the phantom object a,¬†becomes the symptom of this lack. We can see this through the articulation of every word in this sentence (i.e. there is an unconscious reason as to why I desire to explain Lacanian psychoanalysis to you). In Seminar XX: On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge, Lacan multiplies his borromean knot into “the ring of string” to show how the moment lack (i.e. repressed desires, sublimations, etc.) reveals itself within a signifying word, another signifier would immediately conceal it by articulating the next word in the sentence. As a result, this makes the former lack no longer lacking. Every “positive” signifying word is carried out by a “negative” lack (-1) that is linked to another “positive” word from the beginning to the end of every sentence. This is where Lacan deviates from the traditional approach to clinical psychoanalytical methods, which had always revolved around the patient who lies on the couch to free associate their thoughts via speech for 50 minutes. Lacan infamously invented the “variable sessions” where he would sometimes abruptly end his patient’s sessions in an attempt to make the “cut” and interrupt their signifying chain as a method for diagnosis. If I remember correctly, this is one of the main reasons why Lacan was “excommunicated” (banned) from the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA).

With everything considered, we now understand the reason why Lacan was against ego psychology where it focused on reinforcing an ego that is “not-whole” (I purposely used the term “not-whole” to allude to Lacan’s ideas on sexual difference that is inscribed into the way the subject interacts with language; how the subject gets unconsciously split / castrated determines sexual difference). The more ego psychologists enforces the ego which has been alienated from the Other, the stronger this alienation becomes. Human subjectivity is the wound / symptom that is created through its relationship with the symbolic Other (i.e. a relationship with what the subject had given up on / repressed). It is through this wound where we recognize the unconscious mind and our subjectivity of existence. You cannot heal this wound.

‚Äú…Desire, a function central to all human experience, is the desire for nothing nameable. And at the same time this desire lies at the origin of every variety of animation. If being were only what it is, there wouldn‚Äôt even be room to talk about it. Being comes into existence as an exact function of this lack.‚ÄĚ —–Jacques Lacan