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. 😲

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

“There are no mistakes.” —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

“Neurosis is the inability to tolerate ambiguity.” —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 Clément

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.

“Words 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.”

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.