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.

Ciao.

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Commentaries, Contemplation, Popular Posts

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

“I 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.”
— 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. The tricky part is to understand the way 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 the 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 repression of desire, 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 the general audience, I feel like it might be more difficult than some of my other writings on Lacan.

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

 


 

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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” 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 discussing 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 they 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 speech and 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.

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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 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 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 passage: “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 basically 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 becoming 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 and prescribe XYZ medication for you 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 lead 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 languageThis 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 infamously “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 later 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 (split) ego which has been alienated from the Other’s desires, the stronger this alienation becomes. The ego 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.

“…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’t even be room to talk about it. Being comes into existence as an exact function of this lack.” —Jacques Lacan

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Commentaries

On Lacanian Psychoanalysis, Language, and Popular Posts

In, A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud famously pointed out three humilities in human history:

1) Earth is not at the center of the universe (Nicolaus Copernicus).
2) Humans are nothing special but animals amongst nature (Charles Darwin).
3) Humans are not the masters of their own mind (Sigmund Freud and other psychoanalysts).

This post consists of further elaborations on some of my past writings that talks about Lacanian psychoanalysis (I will get to a little bit of deconstruction and Jordan Peterson at the very end). It will not be very well structured because I wrote it over night (I was bored). I do not consider myself to be well-read on Lacan, but I think I am competent enough to talk about his ideas. In my opinion, Lacan, along with Melanie Klein, are the most important post-Freudians in psychoanalytic theory, and clinical psychoanalysis. What you will learn is not only how crazy Lacanian psychoanalysis is, but how our everyday spoken / written language is actually full of holes and gaps ready to be psychoanalyzed. It is important that you understand the basic concepts which I have introduced from my previous posts before you read this one (hyperlinked in the large subtitles below)—though you can probably get by without reading them. This post is also very long (around 5000 words), and relatively dense.

On Love: Philosophy in Lacanian Psychoanalysis

At first, I contemplated on whether I should publish the post because love is the most cliche topic in history. But it turned out that many people liked it. This is probably because I had to water down a lot of psychoanalytical ideas in order to reach a larger audience. As such, my writing would be a disappointment for those who wish to understand psychoanalysis at a deeper level. The majority of this post will satisfy you with some complex psychoanalytical concepts that I intentionally skipped (though I won’t cover every single concept entirely). Before I begin, there are three basic ideas that we should understand from the original post:

1) I showed that in Lacanian psychoanalysis, “objectification” is inevitable. Objet a (object cause of desire) takes position as the object in-itself where our relationship with the other is actually missing. Love is what fills in this non-existent relationship which allows us to accept the object for itself.

2) Lacanian psychoanalysis and science has a complicated relationship. Lacan sometimes refers to psychoanalysis as scientific, and other times not. Certainly, the scientific folks will say that psychoanalysis has not past the rigor of the scientific method and therefore it is a pseudoscience (that is, if Lacan claims it to be a science). But at the same time, scientists are also the ones who did not consider what allows their “scientific method” and “knowledge” to surface into their conscious mind. Psychoanalysis attempts to articulate how we experience the fabric of reality through subjectivity. In Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan briefly talks about a man who frequents the coast. One day he “discovers” that the tides of the ocean are influenced by the moon, even when his unconscious mind had already discovered this phenomenon long before the thought had surfaced into his consciousness.

3) Psychoanalysis is unlike modern psychology which focuses heavily on scientific inquiries in the brain, hormones, body, behaviors, cognition, etc. A psychoanalyst also does not prescribe medicine so you can conceal the symptoms of your neurosis or psychosis. A psychoanalyst reveals and makes you confront your symptoms by looking for the origins of your neurosis or psychosis from your childhood experience (in psychoanalysis, a lot of adult psychological disorders originates from childhood). Another words, psychoanalysis tries to tell you the truth about your personal problems. One can already see that psychoanalysis is not for everyone. Not only does it take a long time to see results, it is also significantly more expensive than medication. The patient must be ready to learn about themselves, connect the missing dots in their lives, and confront all of their unwanted repressed thoughts and feelings.

The Symbolic and the Split Subject 

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The main problem of my original post is that I focus mostly between Imaginary and Real, with little emphasis on the Symbolic order which represents language, law, the big Other, and the unconscious mind. Lacanian psychoanalysis is largely about the Symbolic order because “the unconscious is structured like a language”. It is therefore, impossible to talk about Lacan without addressing language. The challenge is that, the moment I incorporate important ideas from the Symbolic, my writing will no longer be as beginner friendly. This is because, (1) the Symbolic order involves the “the subject of the unconscious”. (2) The word “subject” consists of several connotations in relationship to philosophy, legal law, and Freud. (3) Every Symbolic word I speak is always already influenced by the unconscious subject. Every signifying word from the spoken / written subject reveals to a psychoanalyst a series of symptoms of the person, including this text. The relationship between the subject of the unconscious and the Symbolic is the heart of Lacanian psychoanalysis.

Let us begin by understanding the difference between subject and ego, which is the most important distinction that we must be able to tell apart. Lacan was against Anglo-American ego-psychology where these psychologists places the ego (“I”) as the subject—that it is our egos which gives us an agency to choose. For Lacan, the ego is actually an object, and not a subject. The ego is an Imaginary entity without any agency. Basically, the ego is our Imaginary and progressive construction of our identity through Lacan’s three orders (Real, Imaginary and Symbolic). The ego is a richly made up narrative about ourselves which includes our mannerisms, behaviors, how we will act in certain situations, and who we are and the roles we play. Whereas the subject is the subject of the unconscious. Unlike the ego that makes up all these Imaginary things about itself, the subject “avoids” the ego from fully capturing its identity (as the ego develops). There are things we can find out about the unconscious subject through the language of the ego (i.e. this text), but what we can know about the subject is never complete. This incompleteness is also caused by, as we will later see, the infamous castration complex and other concepts such as “the big Other”. Hence why Lacan reveals that every subject is essentially split or “barred”, since the subject is incomplete through the ego (split subject is represented with an “S” with a strike through it). Any sense of wholeness of this split subject is just a projection from our Imaginary ego. Ultimately, the ego alienates the unconscious subject by splitting it. As such, the ego is the symptom of neurosis and psychosis that needs to be analyzed. The stronger this ego gets, the more it alienates and represses the subject. This is why Lacan was radically against ego-psychology because making the ego stronger will alienate the unconscious subject even more.

To put it in another way, the unconscious subject speaks through the ego without revealing itself. The subject is a negative entity that remains in the unconscious where we can only see “half” of it through the ego when it speaks—hence the “split subject”. What the ego says about itself, its behaviors, etc. reveals about the unconscious subject. For example, if someone wonders why they always forget their car keys, but no matter how hard they try not to forget them, they always leave it behind at work, etc. All of this reveals something about the unconscious subject of this person, but never completely. At this point, the psychoanalyst might think, there is something about these behaviors that satisfies (pleasure wise; will get to this) their unconscious mind (split subject) which is causing them to consistently do this over and over again. To be sure, one can never figure out what the unconscious subject is thinking, hence this subject will always be split and incomplete—this wound cannot be healed.

The split subject is unconscious where we can only see parts of it through the ego. But also, the split subject is the effects of language, and we will gradually learn a little more about this as we move along. Let us quickly piece together Lacan’s words, the subject is “the subject of the unconscious”, “the unconscious is structured like a language”, and finally, “the unconscious is the discourse of the Other”. In short, the split subject belongs to the Symbolic order which is constantly influenced by, of what we will soon see, the almighty and tyrannical, “big Other”.

Simply put, the conscious words that we speak and write everyday represents what our unconscious mind is thinking, where we, as conscious speaking (split) subjects are not completely aware of. Every word (signifier) we articulate marks the “split” of the unconscious subject where parts of it reveals itself through language. Most of us tend to think that the language we articulate is complete, even when it is full of gaps and holes that we substitute with signifiers (i.e. the Freudian slip). This is why Lacan likes to play with the phrase, “the subject that which is represented by a signifier for another signifier”. Ultimately, this split subject is complicated by a bunch of other psychoanalytic concepts such as jouissance (“pleasure”; this French term is intentionally left untranslated), the big Other, mirror stage, the-Name-of-the-Father, and the castration complex—these are ideas that I will get to.

The big Other

This leads to the problem on how vague I was in regards to psychoanalytic therapy where I pointed out, “the analyst’s job is to reveal what the patient has repressed in their Symbolic order via free association”. The Symbolic order is closely associated with the “big Other”, which is where the unconscious subject resides (one can even say that the Symbolic is the big Other). The primary goal of psychoanalytical therapy is to find out what the big Other wants (desires) when the split subject speaks through the ego. The big Other that is represented with a capital “A”, is loosely translated to what Freud calls, the superego. For Freud, the superego was developed from the creation of rules by the “Primal Father” in a tribe, which is derivative to the laws and social orders of civilization. The big Other is a radical alterity that mediates with the split subject and the ego; who basically forces you to ask how society and other people would judge you by what you are doing with your life. The big Other is a tyrannical subject (almost “God like”) that imposes the Symbolic law upon the ego and the split subject which keeps you in line with society. As such, the big Other will significantly influence how the ego is progressively formed through the Imaginary, which begins with the mirror stage in childhood until death.

To be sure, the Lacanian big Other is different to the little other who is distinguished with a lower-case “o”. Similar to object a, the little other is represented with a lower-case “a“. The little other is often seen as the “other person” even when this other “Real” person is just a mirror of our Imaginary alter-ego (i.e. when we empathize for others, this little other is doing work). Whereas, the big Other interferes with this little Imaginary other and the split subject through the Symbolic order. The big Other is the law which remains unconscious to the split subject through the discourse of Symbolic language. Essentially, Lacan thinks language comes from the big Other / unconscious mind. And what is spoken / written always obscurely shrouds the big Other as a radical alterity. This is another reason why the subject is always “split” as they articulate words, since they do not know what the big Other is thinking. The big Other is what mediates and shapes the split subject and the ego because it is the true mastermind of humans.

Since language is always influenced by the unconscious mind, Lacan will use algebra and other mathematical symbols known as “mathemes” to represent psychoanalytical concepts (for example, this is the graph of desire, and here is the graph on sexual difference, you won’t be able to understand them unless you read his seminars). Following closely to the philosophers Alexandre Koyre and Gaston Bachelard, Lacan thinks that by using mathematical formulas, he can transmit his knowledge on psychoanalysis to others. Furthermore, it is also why Lacan is so hard to read because the language that is articulated by the speaker (and interpreted by the reader), is always influenced by the unconscious. Hence, Lacan tries to counter-act this problem by presenting his work in strange ways.

The Mirror Stage, Castration, and the Oedipus Complex

The first figure who takes position as the big Other—the Real Other—is the mother who represents authority (the law) for a child to care for him/her. Thus, the big Other is always a woman. We can say that the first question the child asks is “What does the (m)Other want?” (by “want”, I mean, “desire”). The newborn child attempts to figure out the mother’s gestures who is either too loving or too withdrawn. The child becomes anxious for this Real Other because he/she cannot figure out what the mother wants. It is not until the child begins the mirror stage where they realize that the mother lacks a signifier and confronts the Oedipus Complex, which is closely related to castration. Here, Lacan is cautious to not fall into the traditional “every family has a mother and father” and that “they are of different biological sexes” trap. For Lacan, the maternal and paternal figures, like sexual difference, are positions that the parents take. As we will soon see, the castration complex will not interfere with this idea since castration is the Symbolic lack of the Imaginary phallus—not the lack of a Real penis (organ).

One of the most important contribution Lacan made in psychoanalysis is the famous concept known as “the mirror stage”. This is the stage when the child first recognizes themselves in the mirror—that the person he/she sees in the mirror is “I”, the Imaginary ego. The mirror stage marks the beginnings on the developments of the Imaginary (Ego; and Fantasy) and Symbolic order (split subject; language; law). To be sure, the mirror stage isn’t just a “stage”, but something that continues into adulthood.

When the child goes into the mirror stage and develops their Imaginary and Symbolic order (i.e. they begin to learn language and who “they are” as the ego, etc.), the child begins the castration complex and discovers how this Real Other which embodies the mother, is actually lacking a Symbolic signifier (there are three types of lacks: privation, frustration and castration; I am going to jump to castration). This is an idea that originates from Freud where the child discovers how their mother does not have a penis. Lacan takes Freud’s idea further by saying that, what lacks is not the Real penis (organ) in the (m)Other, but the Symbolic lack of the Imaginary phallus (the phallus is represented as ф).

Thus, the mother qua Real Other, is always Symbolically lacking the Imaginary phallic signifier. The child learns how their mother, who embodies the big Other, does not have any phallic signifier assigned to her. The mother (woman) is she who lacks a Symbolic language. This is why, the way we articulate Symbolic language through signifiers is always missing the signifier of the big Other since it always “slips away” the moment one tries to anchor / stabilize it. Nothing in Symbolic language can represent the Other (who is always a woman), because the only signifier (language) that exists is the phallus. As such, Lacan crosses out the big Other and refer to it as the “barred Other” (A) because she cannot be represented in language. This lack which is synonymous to castration, is what causes desire to arise.

The-Name-of-the-Father

From this moment, the famous Lacanian “Name-of-the-Father” comes into play as the “paternal metaphor” which replaces the lack of signifier from the maternal mother. The Real father appears and establishes the Symbolic phallus that was lacking within the Imagination of the child (there is a difference between Symbolic father, Imaginary father, and Real father, which I won’t talk about). Recall in my original post, that the moment we try to identify the Real through the Symbolic statement such as “red wine is made of grape juice”, the statement slips into the Imaginary of the “Real” which is not the actual Real in-itself, i.e. I am Imagining red wine is made of grape juice, which is not the Real irreducible red wine before my eyes. Here, something similar happens, where the Symbolic Name-of-the-Father substitutes for the Real (m)Other; where in a Freudian sense, the Symbolic-Imaginary phallus of the “Real” takes the place of the Real penis (as a “surplus”)—even when it is still fundamentally missing. This is why the castration complex is never complete in anyone, which marks the basic foundation for neurosis. Hence, we are all neurotics who tries to protect ourselves from castration.

On another note, the-Name-of-the-Father is an idea that originates from Freud, which was infamously known as the “Oedipus Complex” . Freud thinks every man represses the idea that they want to kill their father and have sex with their mother (though Lacan is not as extreme as Freud). The Lacanian Father, is equivalent to the Freudian Oedipus complex who says “no” to the taboo of incest—kind of like how incest is a crime in our society. The Father, who represents the Symbolic law (the phallic signifier; where its derivative develops into the laws of civilization, and what one might call “patriarchy”), is the substitution of the missing signifier / lack that the child desires from the (m)Other. As a result, our desire for the mother is repressed in our childhood and is replaced by the law (phallic signifier) of the Father. The-Name-of-the-Father is important because it is the right of passage for the child to enter the structure of society and its laws—along with every structure such as the socio-linguistic aspects of language. This is where the big Other begins to organize around and takes position as society, law, and language.

By articulating language, we are also articulating the lack (big Other) that is inherent within it. This is why Slavoj Zizek uses this to talk about money (See. Incontinence of the Void). The more money (signifiers) we accumulate, the more we paradoxically feel the lack and the more we desire for it (or as Arthur Schopenhauer said, money is like sea water, the more we drink it, the thirstier we get). In a Lacanian sense, the more signifiers that cannot be substituted or “anchored” with the phallus, the more feminine the writing—as we will see with James Joyce later on.

Ultimately, what we express through language represents the castration complex of substituting signs for the lack of the Other. Once again, this is why language is actually full of holes and gaps. It is also another reason why the subject is always split. Without this Symbolic law of the Father—this phallic signifier, which anchors and stabilizes the illusion of meaning, there would not be any meaning. This “anchoring” is famously known as “le point de capiton”, which is often left untranslatedNevertheless, this is why all Symbolic language is phallic, even when at a fundamental level, signification arises from the missing signifier of the mother. Thus, the active paradox of language is that: the phallic signifier of language also consists of the (m)Other. This mother (woman) qua Other is without Symbolic language, yet she is the origin of the Symbolic language—a language that is inherently (non)phallic.

Finally, we must understand that, for Lacan, both the boy and girl goes through the same Oedipus procedure but in the opposite timeline. For the boy, the-Name-of-the-Father is the exit of the Oedipus complex (who never really exits castration) where he separates from the mother when he recognizes that it is the father who is the Symbolic law (phallus). Where as for the girl, the-Name-of-the-Father marks the entering of the Oedipus Complex where she recognizes how the mother lacks the phallic signifier and begins to turn towards the father. The girl has to take position as the boy since there are no signification that belongs to the mother. Another words, the girl must speak and signify phallic language to substitute the lack in the (m)Other. It is only later where she develops feminine sexuality, which for Lacan, is closely related to “hysteria” and infinite jouissance (I will dab on infinite jouissance later on, but I won’t be talking too much about feminine sexuality because this post is already really long; See. Seminar XX).

The Pleasure Principle and Jouissance

Let us move on to address the sexual experience. While it seems like two people are having sex with each other, the only thing they experience are two things: (1) the Imagination of the other person which makes it appear like they are having sex, even when they are having sex with object a; (2) the only thing we experience during copulation is our own jouissance (pleasure) which takes us away from the other person—not closer. It is love that fills in the void of the other in a “sexual relationship”.

At last, we arrive at one of the most important concept of psychoanalysis—of what Freud famously calls the pleasure principle. Lacan calls it jouissance for reasons which I will try to explain later. For Freud, humans live according to the pleasure principle which is carried out by the unconscious mind. That is to say, the unconscious mind has the tendency to achieve and satisfy the pleasure principle. Hence for Freud, one turns towards the subject’s dreams since he saw how dreams seeks to satisfy our desires in strange latent ways. The trick is that, to experience pleasure does not always mean copulation. Freud saw how our sex drive becomes sublimated in civilization due to the effects of the superego (the law / big Other that prohibits us from doing this or that, such as incest, etc.). The most common form of pleasure that humanity attempts to achieve is happiness. An easy way is to think of the sex drive as a river. If a wall (the Symbolic law; the big Other) blocks off the flow of the river (sex drive), the water will flow elsewhere around the wall (or accumulate behind the wall in which case enhances neurosis and psychosis). This change in flow is called sublimation where we redirect the energy of our sex drive into other things such as, for Lacan, the articulation of language and signifiers (which is always missing the pleasure of the big Other due to castration), and for Freud, other daily activities such as work, hobbies, music, art, etc. This is one of the reasons why, the more laws we impose on people, i.e. the more we reinforce the tyrannical big Other which shapes our ego, the crazier and violent people gets due to the alienation of the unconscious subject (i.e. political correctness). Furthermore, our civilization today is largely based on achieving infinite jouissance as an end-in-itself and there are too many examples to count. This idea is famously known as Freud’s “libidinal economy” (an economy based on our libido).

The most controversial part of the pleasure principle is when Freud discovers how it actually tries to exceed into its opposition (See. Beyond the Pleasure Principle). Another words, there consists of another drive of what Freud infamously calls, the death drive. To put it in a quasi-Freudian and Lacanian way, Freud saw how our unconscious mind / subject (influenced by the big Other) seeks for all sorts of pleasure—including things that causes us suffering and painNot only do we want to live a happy life for pleasure, we also have an instinct of wanting “to return to the inanimate” (for real, Freud is not saying you should kill yourself, so please don’t). This is where the concepts of Sadochism, Masochism, and Fetishism are introduced because we all share certain aspects of these concepts in one way or another. For example, the most common form of fetish is kissing. Nevertheless, Lacan’s jouissance is the combination of both sex and death drive. Jouissance is a type of pleasure so powerful that it exceeds itself. Lacan refers to it as “pleasure” and not “enjoyment” because enjoyment implies that pleasure has a limit. Whereas jouissance does not have limits because it will lead the subject towards self-destruction.

Now you see how all of these psychoanalytical concepts overlaps each other as we near the end of this post. What we begin to see is how, for Lacan, the articulation of language and signifiers are a form of jouissance that is related to all the other concepts I mentioned (the Oedipus and castration complex, etc.). Lacan famously calls this, lalangue, which is an amalgam of libido and signifier. Another words, writing this post gives me jouissance. Speaking and articulating language gives jouissance. Reading this post and not / half understanding it gives jouissance.

I think part of the reason why jouissance is left untranslated is to leave us with a sense of dissatisfaction on how the signifier is incomplete which brings us “frustration” and pleasure. Furthermore, this untranslated term “jouissance” also marks castration within the Symbolic signifiers of the split subject, due to the lack of the Other. The jouissance of the Other within the Symbolic is impossible to acquire and we have to give up this jouissance (here, we recognize how the saying, “we want what we can’t have” lives up to its words because we can never have it). This is where object fills in the missing jouissance of the Other / other.

On Jordan Peterson and Post-Struturalism

My writings on Jordan Peterson and Post-structuralism has been by far, the most frequently visited, re-blogged, and referred. In general, my position on Peterson’s views on post-structuralism remains the same—even if my views on Derrida has slightly changed. To be honest, I think Peterson’s arguments against Derrida are quite pathetic and hypocritical. In general, the only thing I agree with Peterson is how political correctness is a huge problem.

In the original post, I covered Lacan’s infamous idea on how “there is no such thing as woman”, where feminine sexuality can only be recognized through the stuffing of the signifier, such as James Joyce’s Ulysses. If you recall on how the big Other, who is a woman that lacks a signifier, you will see why I said there are no language which can represent “woman’s language” due to the castration complex. But above all else, the paradoxical reason why Joyce’s Ulysses represents a woman’s writing is the result of infinitive signifiers where meaning constantly “slips away”. There appears to be a lack of (phallic) signified meaning when the reader tries to anchor the meanings (allusions) of the novel. On one hand, what allows signifiers to stabilize is the Symbolic law, the-Name-of-the-Father, who with a phallus, fixes signifiers in place to produce an illusion of meaning. On the other hand, because the text is bloated with signifiers, the anchoring of meaning becomes impossible. The phallus becomes impossible because it cannot anchor any illusions for a fixed meaning. Thus, the text presents itself as a “woman’s writing” where signifiers continues to slide to infinity and cannot be pinned down. This infinite movement of the signifier is also the infinite aspect of woman jouissance.

The recognition on the lack of a signifier is where feminine sexuality arises which is contrasted by masculine sexuality through fixed meaning. This is why feminist Helene Cixious wrote the way she did in her famous work: The Laugh of Medusa. When Derrida speaks of the term “phallogocentrism”, where the phal = phallus, as in the Symbolic, and not “penis” (as in the Real organ), we are dealing with a Bobby interpreted, quasi-Derridean criticism on psychoanalysis where people privilege and choose the position of masculine language, over the feminine “stuffed signifiers” of language (remember that sexuality, like the maternal / paternal figure, are merely positions that one takes).

Finally, I also mentioned that Derrida is a critic of psychoanalysis which is true. To be honest, I never read the Derridean book I cited, called Resistances of Psychoanalysis. Though if I were to take a wild guess, Derrida will probably talk about the problem on interpretation of the signifier in psychoanalysis and maybe the problem of the word “drive” translated from “trieb”. Derrida practices a specific type of phenomenology that is neither Husserlian or Heideggarian. One should not confuse phenomenology with psychoanalysis because they are polar opposites. In fact, Husserlian phenomenology challenges a lot of the assumptions made in psychology in general, particularly regarding the use of logic (See. psychologism). If you hate psychoanalysis but are still interested in French philosophy, a good anti-psychoanalytical text is Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia who focuses on the “micro-politics” of desire. This was the book that Lacan banned from his psychoanalytic institution. I have read a chunk of the book and it is pretty weird—almost as weird as me.

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Commentaries, Contemplation

On Love: Philosophy in Lacanian Psychoanalysis

 

Love means giving something you don’t have, to someone who doesn’t want it.
—Jacques Lacan

Today, I will show you the basic Lacanian psychoanalytic approach to love, sex and relationships by situating it in Kantian philosophy and some of Alenka Zupancic and Slavoj Zizek’s ideas. One can effectively say that this post is not psychoanalytical because it is situated in basic philosophical principles. Although it would make more sense for me to place Lacan within Hegel’s philosophy, explaining it through Kant will be much easier for general readers because Hegel is difficult to understand. Here, I will be explaining Lacan without putting emphasis on any complex psychoanalytical concepts (split subject, big Other, jouissance, ego, etc.). My goal is to show you our relationship with others in addition to some ideas on science and psychotherapy. Where Freud will say, “every relationship is a sexual relationship”, Lacan will tell you, “there is no sexual relationship.”

Last edited: January 8, 2020. I made significant changes to certain sections.

Kant: the Limits of Knowledge and the In-Itself

Let us begin with one of the most influential 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant and his argument that the only thing the conscious human subject can experience is phenomenon and that we can never know any objects in-itself (noumenon). I can never know any object in-itself because I am never the chair or the table. I can never experience the world from your perspective because I am never your consciousness. I can only experience the world from my own consciousness. By saying that an object consists of X properties, I am idealizing the object as if it consists of X, even when I am never the object in-itself which is impossible to conceive because I am never the object.

Let us use a formal example which will guide us throughout the rest of this post: can an object such as Nature, exist without a subject? If I was never born, Nature would not exist because I would not be a thinking subject who is capable of seeing Nature as such. This is why the relationship around us—which is unthinkable without a subject—is a relationship from object to other objects. But since we can conceive of it by making such statement, it means that we are already a subject. There are no objects without a subject. In order for there to be a universe, a nature, a phenomenon, a writing or a science, there has to be a subject. As soon as the subject arises, every object is instantly related to that subject.

This subject isn’t just anybody. Within her own consciousness, she carries her desires, history, traditions, languages, culture, etc. The moment the subject exist in relation with Nature in-itself (not just standing in front of Nature, but also reading the word “Nature” in-itself), the subject immediately “contaminates” Nature with her own traces of her culture and desires. The subject establishes a relationship with Nature that she thinks is authentic (i.e. her own definitions of Nature), even when she cannot know anything in-itself because she is not Nature. The idealized relationship that the subject establishes with Nature is an Imaginary fantasy that she formulates in relation to herself. Nature as the in-itself is a void that we can never know anything about. Yet, it is this fantasy that we sustain as authentic which allows us to manipulate Nature by materializing a “Real” through the Real.

Imagining the Impossible Real

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The Lacanian Borromean Knot

Let us dive into some Lacanian psychoanalysis with simple metaphorical examples on how this Imaginary relationship with Nature in-itself works. The key is to understand the contradictions involved and how we utilize our Imagination (fantasy; Ego; subjectivity) through the Symbolic (language; societal law) in relation with the Real (impossible). From now on, I will capitalize the words of the three orders displayed in the diagram.

Think about how people talk about the “real world” as if they know what the Real in-itself is (“Get real!”). To reach the Real, I attempt to reduce my glass of red wine into its fundamental properties and I discover that red wine in-itself is made up of grape juice. My attempt to reach the Real properties of the wine results in me producing the Imaginary fantasy as a surplus Symbolic statement that: “red wine is made of grape juice”. It is by producing this grape juice fantasy that I reach the “Real” which is really just an Imagination of the Real. Another words, the Real should not be something that I can only reach by producing it as an Imaginary fantasy (of imagining that red wine as grape juice). As Zizek says, the Real is this irreducible Thing that eludes us the very the moment we try to grasp it—it is an impossible Real. We can see something similar in chemistry when I imagine my cup of water as H2O instead of water in front of my eyes, or I imagine that nature consists of mathematical laws and not trees and mountains. It is through this Imaginary fantasy that we create reality around us by inscribing it into the Symbolic language; and it is through these contradictions that creates a new Real. For example, manipulating H2O causes real life effects to water. As Zupancic points out: “Science splits the world into two” and there are numerous historical events that showed this creation of a new Real (perhaps the most famous ones being Copernicus, Galileo and Einstein).

Our relationship with the Real in-itself is distorted by our Imaginary and Symbolic order every moment of our lives. What appears as (Imaginary) “Real” is always influenced by our imagination which is closely linked to our Ego. The true rupture of the Imaginary “Real” is when the impossible Real appears (when the impossible happens). It is when our unconscious mind surfaces to our consciousness as the Real which changes the relationship with our Imagination of the “Real”.

Objet Petit a: “There is No Sexual Relationship”

To recap, our attempt to reach the Real in-itself is an impossibility. The moment one thinks they arrive at this Real, they discover that they are caught in their own Imagination. In the same way, what people think they know about someone is never what they know about them. What one perceives as their “Real” relationship is always distorted by their Imagination—which once again, is associated with the Imaginary. Our relationship with the other person as the object in-itself is a relationship sustained by an Imaginary fantasy that we experience as “Real”. For us, the other person is the “in-itself”, the void, just as we are for them.

In Lacanian psychoanalysis, the in-itself is similar to the objet petit a, or the object cause of desire” (shown at the center of the borromean knot as “a“). When people say things like “stop objectifying women!” (via “male gaze” popularized by Laura Mulvey), they are referring to objet a. This “a” means “other” (“autre” in french) as in the other object. To be sure, not every object is objet a. It is only when the subject desires that it becomes a. For example, the super handsome / beautiful person, your cellphone screen, the food advertisement, the car you want to buy, or the desire to reconcile with Nature. As Zizek points out, Objet a is what gives a “body” to the in-itself (the void), but it is not the in it-self. Yet, by giving body to the in-itself, objet a will appear as if it is the in-itself.

Thus, our relationship with Nature in our formal example is really just a relation with objet a, but never nature in-itself as a void. It is easy to think of our subject-object Nature example in relation to copulation. To do so, we simply need to replace Nature with a subject. Hence, we have a subject-object relation (subject as the object or subject as objet a instead of Nature). This is why when we are having sex, we are actually having sex with objet a that is giving body to the in-itself. Another words, we are having sex with a void (an in-itself; the other person) that we know nothing about. There is no sexual relationship because the only relationship we have is with objet a which is just an Imaginary fantasy. Thus, there is a sexual relationship because there is no sexual relationship. We need Imagination not only because we have to learn and fantasize a formula for our sexual relationship due to its absence, but because fantasy is what sustains desire. This is one of the reasons why Lacan points out that a relationship is always a relationship of three:  “1 + 1 +  a“.  What we love about someone is never exactly who that person is. Yet paradoxically, what bonds two people together is also this missed encounter (our fantasy about them) which happens to be the encounter of the “Real”.

Love as the Impossible Real

“Love feels like a great misfortune, a monstrous parasite, a permanent state of emergency that ruins all small pleasures.”— Slavoj Zizek

In our culture, the purpose of dating is to bond with the other person—to (hopefully) eventually have a “relationship” with them because there is no such thing as a relationship. Yet, it is only after dating where couples happens to love each other because “their relationship works”. While what appears to be a relationship is a fantasy constructed by the two people who are together, this fantasy is sustained by something which contradicts it. It interrupts the fantasy relationship by placing the subject into the Real. Such phenomenon is the impossible event of love.

Two people love each other not because their relationship work. Their relationship work because they love each other. For Zupancic, “it is love that does something to us, that makes relationships work and allow us to coincide with our lover”. What exactly does love do to us? Love makes us accept the object (subject) in-itself for who they are. Another words, love is neither a fantasy or an idealism (i.e. perfect personality, perfect body, etc.) because it is the impossible Real. Love as the impossible occurs not only when our fantasy relationship with the person (“the love object”) collides with the person in-itself (the void) as an absolute singularity, it can only do so because love allows us to accept the in-itself for itself. This impossibility is what disrupts our continuity with the (Imaginary) “Real” of the subject and allow us to encounter with our lover as if “it was the first time”. For Zupancic, this is why Clement Rosset responds to the “impossible question” in such way:

“Why do you love me?”
“Because you remind me of you.”

Here, we see that “you” objet a, reminds me of “you” in-itself. To put it another way, I love you because I love you—because you coincide with you. Thus one says, “She/He is the One!”. It is not surprising that people sometimes love each other without reason. After all, reason is just an attempt at “filling in the void” through the Symbolic as a surplus fantasy of the “Real”. For Zupancic, “In love, the impossible happens, and it is from there on that we must continue and work with what has happened, instead of assuming that from now on the impossible is (or should be) simply replaced by the possible and, indeed, necessary.”

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Through love, we recognize that we are all strangers in this world who are caught by our own finitude, fantasizing about relationships and the way reality works. The moment we confront the Real, we are already situated in the depths of our own fantasy. The impossible event of love—the fall of falling in love—is the new signifier which disrupts our “Real”. Love allows us to glimpse the impossible while confronting the infinite through its own finitude. Where we conceive of love which erupts from the impossible Real also appears as the imaginary of the Real. Love is at once the possible and the impossible—it is a singularity, a paradox, an event which throws the subject into an orbit without trajectory; like a star absorbed into the black light. —Love is therefore, the madness amongst the impossible.

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