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”). 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. 

Since this might be my only post of 2022, I decided to write about one of the most important topic in the world. Despite its length, this has become one of my favorite post of all time. I don’t write as much anymore due to work. Nowadays, I like to turn my brain off and enjoy the moment because my greatest strength is also my greatest weakness: I think too much. While I am impersonal when it comes to my writings, people might find some of the content overly relatable. So if you think I am talking about you, I am probably not talking about you. And if reading psychoanalysis makes you question your sanity. Let me throw this out there: you are not crazy. We don’t use the word “crazy” in here. 

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 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. To put it vulgarly, 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 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 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 at how Louise’s character who 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. To love requires us to take risks and embrace the unknown so to be consumed by its magic where the result is surprise. Love requires one to leap across an abyss. If you have to think about it, then you won’t do it (a reference to Jean-Paul Sartre found here).

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 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 where it could yield room for the analysand’s subjectivity to identify the truth of their desires (symptoms). 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 (if this is the case, is the analyst an example of an unrequited lover who must love without expecting anything in return?). 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. The analyst do so by trying to make the analysand recognize that they are split subjects. 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 our 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 on dating apps. 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. Thus, 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. 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.

Standard
Commentaries, Contemplation, Popular Posts

Lacanian Psychoanalysis and the Subversion of the Split Subject

Graph IV

Graph of Desire

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

Graph I

Graph I, “Elementary Cell”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graph II

Graph II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We now have sufficient information to understand Graph III:

1678-5177-pusp-30-e180068-gf8

Graph III

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

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

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

Let us move into the final form of the graph:

Graph IV

Graph of Desire (Completed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standard
Commentaries, Contemplation

Deconstruction and the Resistances of Psychoanalysis

“…the dreams of a bad night are given to us as philosophy. You will say I too am a dreamer; I admit it, but I do what others fail to do, I give my dreams as dreams, and leave the reader to discover whether there is anything in them which may prove useful to those who are awake.” — Jean-Jacques Rousseau

I intentionally cited Rousseau in my last post to open up the dialogue between deconstruction and psychoanalysis. This is the first post on my blog that talks about some of Derrida’s views on psychoanalysis. It requires you to have read my previous post on Derrida to understand (found here). Since there are too much material to cover, I will split my discussion into several posts.

Introduction to Psychoanalytical Difference: Conscious / Unconscious

It is not by chance that Derrida chose this Rousseau quote to end his magnum opus, Of Grammatology. What kind of “philosophy” might be given to us from the dreams of a bad night? PsychoanalysisIt is the psychoanalyst and analysand (patient) who analyzes their dreams while they are awake. Derrida had a very long and complicated relationship with Lacanian psychoanalysis which—in my view—consists of many similarities, yet disagreements with Lacan’s ideas. This is because both deconstruction and psychoanalysis are about “analysis” (interpretation). In this post, I will offer you an introduction to some of their essential differences—as in, not only their differences in a theoretical sense, but what a psychoanalyst say, and what they do not say.

As we have learnt from my previous post, deconstruction is situated in the play between differences: between what a text says, with what it does not say. Derrida refers to this “not said” as an “impurity” which contaminates and produces the privileged center of what is said. I’ve shown many examples of this form of privileged “logocentrism” in my last few posts. Such as how Rousseau privileged speech over writing, yet writing haunts Rousseau’s speech through the invention of technique. We will eventually encounter more logocentrisms that Derrida will contest, such as Freud’s “phallogocentrism”: the privilege of the male phallus—something that can only be understood in conjunction with Lacanian views on sexual difference.

As I had also went over in my post on psychoanalysis and split subjectivity, psychoanalysis attempts to study unconscious desires through our own consciousness. The unconscious exists because we are conscious subjects. Hence, we are always “split subjects”. This is where we find the fundamental difference which produces psychoanalysis: between what our consciousness says, and what it does not say.

This also relates to what our consciousness can remember and not remember. In the essay “Screened Memories”, Freud talks about how our mind’s defensive mechanisms distorts our conscious memories in order to protect us from repressed traumas in the unconscious. In the same way that Derrida is interested in what is said and not said in a text, Freud was also interested in what is said and not said in our consciousness. For Freud, what the conscious subject does not say is their desire to sleep with their mother. For Derrida, what is not said might not always be their desire for their mother, but something entirely different (if you are interested, this was mentioned by Geoffrey Bennington here).

Readers of Derrida may notice that he does not deny the existence of the unconscious. In fact, he takes advantage of it in many places of his work. For example, in Archive Fever, Derrida braids the relationship between archiving, phenomenology, ontology, with Freudian psychoanalytic views of technology and memory. In such text, Derrida takes an interest in psychoanalysis because it functions as an “apparatus of perception” (Archive Fever, p. 15). This is where we start seeing the difference between psychoanalysis and deconstruction.

Phenomenology, Time Consciousness, and Intentionality

Allow me to recite the first line of Rousseau, “the dreams of a bad night are given to us as philosophy”. In this short passage, Derrida offers a hint to the distinction between psychoanalysis and deconstruction: phenomenology. For the inexperienced reader, it is easy to overlook the word “given”—especially if you have never encountered phenomenology (this is the same when Derrida uses words like “‘as such”; it is also easy to confuse the “Other” under the context of phenomenology and the “Other” in psychoanalysis). The term “given” is frequently studied along with the concepts of intuition, time consciousness and intentionality. It is used among many  phenomenologists, such as Edmund Husserl.

Phenomenology attempts to study the phenomena that surrounds everyday human experiences. In order to understand it, we have to imagine that we are living in limbo where introspection, language and knowledge are temporarily suspended (this is known as “bracketing” or “phenomenological reduction”). Under such suspension, only our perception and senses remain (one can even say that this suspension also withholds the ego).

Imagine that you are sitting on the beach as you gaze upon the ocean in front of you. As you are looking at the ocean via your senses, your intuition tells you that while what is given to you remains “as such” (i.e. the way the ocean appears to your senses as phenomenon), you are also intuitively aware of the ocean’s unfathomable depth. It is like looking at the cup that is sitting on your table while intuitively knowing that it is round on the other side. The word “given” is associated with the phenomenon of our sensory experiences in the world that is offered to our intuition.

Phenomenology concerns itself with the relationship between how phenomena yields to the development of all forms of structures and knowledge. For many phenomenologists, this includes psychoanalysis. Phenomenology was a discipline that Derrida had a very complicated engagement with early in his career. Before Derrida published his famous books such as Of Grammatology, Voice and Phenomenon and Writing and Difference, he translated an essay by Husserl called The Origins of Geometry which included a long introductory essay by Derrida. One can suspect why Husserl wrote this essay, since physicists uses complex geometry and mathematics to represent the world.

There is a reason why phenomenology is often considered as the origins of human experiences that is more originary than language, epistemology, or mathematics. To exist in the world, the human being is always already situated within phenomena (known as “lifeworld”), where everyday objects and inscriptions (i.e. writing) are given to us through our senses. How can a scientist make descriptive observations under the microscope without first experiencing the phenomena that happens around her? How can a physicist question why the Earth rotates around the Sun without first experiencing the phenomena of sunset and sunrise through what is given to them via their perceptions? How can you read this text without first experiencing it through phenomena?

Like Husserl, Derrida was also a thinker of origins: How did phenomenology come into being in the first place? For Derrida, at the heart of our experience of time consciousness lies the experience of difference. That is, a paradoxical division in the way which the world is experienced in our daily phenomena between past and future. The reason why I refer difference as a “paradoxical division” is because this division between past and future is also a non-division since it is “an outside becoming an inside” (refer to my Rousseau example from previous post). Within phenomenology, this paradoxical difference is what Derrida calls “re-presentation”: the difference between past and future (See, Voice and Phenomenon).

Every individual instance that appear in the present moment are actually recalled from the past. Think about films like Interstellar when Cooper falls into the tesseract and he sees individual instances of time of Murph’s room that repeats to infinity.  Think about the present words you had just read and how you are recalling it back to your consciousness. The present moment can only be retained by recalling it from the past (I explained this here). The reason for this is simple: because time is always moving forward through a series of repetition. We are always aging and dying every moment of our lives. This is why Derrida quotes Shakespeare that “time is out of joint”. If we pay attention to our present experiences, we will notice how this present moment is never quite on time. The moment I try to capture the present, it slips into the past as the next future moment becomes the present, which also becomes the past.

One can think about this through what Husserl calls “chasing the comet’s tail”. Imagine that you are observing a meteor fly across the sky. Our phenomenological experience of the present moment is always caught at retaining the “tail” of the comet, but not the actual space rock as it moves across the sky. In other words, we can’t retain the present moment because time is always moving forward—i.e. the comet is always moving from one end of the sky to the other. The present is constituted by the movement between past and future. The future trajectory of the comet creates its past, just like how you are reading this sentence from left to right. The present moment becomes a re-presentation that is recalled from what had just passed.

Putting some of these temporal fidelities aside. Intentionality (the way we read a text or event), is constituted by focusing in a specific past—a privileged past which acts as the “center”. This center as Derrida saw, cannot help but at once be constituted by an “impurity” at the heart of the past’s differences, such as the future. Every time we recall the past, we fix onto a central point which constitutes our intentions of how we perceive the present moment in reality. However, this central point changes as the future unfolds. It is easy for us to say that “the occurrence of X in the past constitutes who I am today”. We can make this claim because we are already at such point in our life from the future.

The present is viewed differently the moment we refocus the central point elsewhere from the past. Perhaps one year from now, it is no longer the occurance of X that constitutes who I am today, but Z. This is why looking back at our own lives can sometimes appear like “it was my destiny to become who I am today, where no chance was involved”, even when the unfolding of the future is always subject to various forms of contingencies. This contingent unfolding of time from the future is what Derrida refer as the “future anterior” (we will return to this term).

The future changes how the past is perceived in the same way that the past changes how the future is perceived. Intentionality is produced through the difference between how each individual experiences their past and future. “Difference” or “Differance” (an intentional spelling mistake) is related to Derrida’s readings of time consciousness. Meaning is “deferred” because time is always moving every moment of our lives until we die. This is why stable meaning never arrives until the moment you die (Derrida talks about this in one of his documentaries here).

An example I always use is the relationship between Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. We know that Newton was one of the first to theorize about gravity whose ideas were usurped by Einstein’s theory of general relativity two hundred years later from the future. At the time, would Newton had thought that someone from the future would prove his theories wrong? (though the Newtonian model is not completely wrong). In the same way, when Einstein wrote his theories, would he had thought that in the future, his ideas might get falsified by other theories? To give these guys the benefit of doubt, I will say, “probably not”. The question that arises is the problem of the future which changes how the past is perceived. Einstein changed how we perceived Newton.

In the same way, it is easy for us to see that certain forms of capitalism had existed before Adam Smith. But it is only after we read Smith, where we look into the past from the future and see how capitalism had already manifested itself in early societies before Smith. Certainly, it is also easy for us to see the problems of capitalism after we had read Karl Marx, etc. But perhaps, it is also the past which changes how the future is perceived, such as those who still believes that the Earth is flat. Such individuals are fixed onto a particular point in time which establishes how they read the present moment.

Finally, let us reconsider Rousseau’s “Nature denature itself” that I analyzed last post. The quote suggests that it is nature’s telos (end goal) to denature itself, even when nature has no specific goals, but pure contingency. On one hand, culture moves away from nature by supplementing what nature cannot provide (i.e. warmth in the winter). On the other hand, nature reappears in our contemporary culture, even when we are living in a time where much of our culture has moved “away” from nature. Hence, we have nature established before culture. Yet, it is easy for Rousseau to say that “Nature denatures itself” when he was already living in a denatured world from the future of a past Nature.

No matter how far culture has moved away from nature, nature’s goal is a destination that is always unfolding from the future to come. Thus, what appears to be nature’s telos is actually a form of pure contingency—i.e. it is by accident that we developed culture and education from Nature by supplementing what it cannot offer humans. Nature “never arrives at its destination” because it is always in the process of “denaturing” (supplementing) itself as time continues to unfold. This denaturing is, once again, related to “archi-violence”. But it is also related to how the future changes how we perceive nature. The future of nature which we today refer as culture, is produced out of a certain form of improvisation and contingency (this is also because we are “human animals”).

For the Love of Lacan: “What will Lacan not have said!”

What I had just presented are the fundamental problems of time which challenges our knowledge. This is what Derrida attempts to address in his essay, “For the Love of Lacan”. In it, Derrida repeatedly says, “What will Lacan not have said!” as he attempts to predict what people will say about Lacan from the future after he dies. Derrida writes:

“What will Lacan not have said! What wouldn’t he have said! What was it with Lacan with the philosophers? To approach this question, it would be necessary to shed light not only on what “with” can mean in this case, but on what Lacan said, did not say, will have or will not have said, caused to be said, or let be said—in the future anterior or in the conditional. To deal with this enigma of the future anterior and the conditional, which is what I will be particularly interested in today, is to deal with the problem of archivization, of what remains or does not remain.” (Resistances of Psychoanalysis, p. 39-40) [my italics and underlining]

By now, most of us already know the general direction of what Derrida is trying to get at in this passage. Lacan was incredibly influenced by Freud who founded psychoanalysis. Hence, through historical chronology, we have Freud before Lacan. It is easy to see Freud as the destination of Lacanian thought when Lacan establishes his school by proclaiming his telos as a “Return to Freud”.

For Derrida, Lacan’s destination is always deferred and contingent through the trace of a historical past from the future. The reader is led to believe how Freud is Lacan’s only telos, even when Lacan’s returning towards a Freudian history consists of detours around other exigencies such as Hegelian and Heideggerian philosophy. In fact, Lacan was once part of a small class taught by the Hegelian philosopher Alexandre Kojeve. While Kojeve’s class was small, it consisted of many future French super star intellectuals, one of them being Lacan, the others being Georges Bataille, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (who was another phenomenologist influenced by Husserl). Furthermore, Lacan was also friends with Heidegger who had translated some of his works into French.

Not only does Derrida see Freud in Lacan, he also sees Lacan “with philosophers” such as Hegel and Heidegger—something that Lacan does not say. This is because Lacan reinterprets Freud from the future (remember that the future changes how the past is perceived). As a result, Lacan’s destination that point towards Freud disseminates into other historical forces as Derrida reads him. All of this comes down to the idea that Derrida never arrives at the destination of Freud when he reads Lacan “Returning to Freud”. Lacan’s ideas always arrive at an elsewhere into other philosophical discourses. This is where we begin to see one of the resistances of psychoanalysis along with what the psychoanalyst say, and what they do not say.

Simply put, while psychoanalysis focuses on the study of desire and the unconscious mind, phenomenology attempts to study phenomena, intentionality, and time consciousness. For Derrida, Lacanian psychoanalysis resists the phenomenology of time consciousness and the infinite ways of establishing our intentionality. Time affects how we perceive and interpret the present moment that is always moving into the future (what does it mean when a psychoanalyst interprets their patients?). After all, psychoanalysis is about “analysis”, it would be a mistake to exclude phenomenology. While both deconstruction and psychoanalysis are about interpretation, one of their main differences are their incompatibilities found in phenomenology.

Are the two disciplines completely irreconcilable? I think not, and I will show you some of the reasons why in future posts. Perhaps one of the reasons is because “deconstruction” practices a certain form of quasi-Husserlian phenomenology that is not exactly Husserlian. This is a bold claim because it suggests that there is an inherent method in deconstruction that is phenomenological, yet isn’t really phenomenological (but neither can we refer deconstruction as meta-phenomenology). If there is a “method” in deconstruction, it would be the method of free play between differences which implies that there are no methods. Nevertheless, this quasi-phenomenology that I have presented to you in this post is what makes Derrida’s Voice and Phenomenon such an important text to read.

The contemporary reader is the future anterior of Lacan and Derrida because we are living in their future who are now part of the past. Perhaps as a future reader who reads both of their works, not only should I say, “What will Lacan not have said!”, but also, “What will Derrida have said!”

Standard
Commentaries, Contemplation, Popular Posts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


lacan_b

The Borromean Knot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schema-L

Schema L

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…Desire, a function central to all human experience, is the desire for nothing nameable. And at the same time this desire lies at the origin of every variety of animation. If being were only what it is, there wouldn’t even be room to talk about it. Being comes into existence as an exact function of this lack.” —–Jacques Lacan

Standard
Contemplation

On Jordan Peterson: Jacques Derrida’s Deconstruction and Phallogocentrism


Last edited: June 29, 2022

Note: I revisited this post after chatting with a friend about Peterson. Keep in mind that this piece was written in 2018. My views on Peterson, as you will see, is that he is a mediocre reader of Derrida. This view remains the same in 2022. While I agree with him in some regards to political correctness, cancel culture, safe spaces, and freedom of speech, his take on gender through his interpretations of Nietzsche lacks a lot of nuance. I often don’t like to label myself because group mentality can be very dangerous (I also don’t join group causes), but I support the LGBTQIA2S+ community—even if I see problems in their ideologies. If I have to label myself, I would be an equalist. I support what is fair.

I think what we need most today is not simply the liberation of sexuality. What we need is the liberation of love which has the ability to reconcile differences in our increasingly politically divided world. Some of you who follow all my posts may know that I intentionally alluded to these themes when I wrote about deconstruction, ethics and how we should have infinite respect for others, here; and in my recent post on psychoanalysis and love here. I think our world would be a much better place if people are willing to look at the world from a different perspective, which, I think, is what love is all about.

* * *


From Jordan Peterson’s interviews, it is clear that he knows very little about Jacques Derrida’s intentions and the surrounding discourses which constitutes his project on deconstruction. For reasons which I will soon elaborate, it is not my goal to address the political aspects of Peterson’s thoughts because what I will discuss in deconstruction shall be conceived as the condition which grants the possibility of politics. In this post, I will analyze some of Peterson’s arguments through Derridean ideas in conjunction with Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalysis to show you Peterson’s misunderstandings of deconstruction (and psychoanalysis). Other smaller topics will include feminism, sexuality, and speech / writing. In addition, I will provide numerous hyperlinks in brackets which are not essential unless you wish to study the subject mentioned further.

To begin with a summation, Peterson’s arguments on Derridean ideas are at best, a hypocritical endeavor. Peterson manages this by agreeing with Derrida that there are infinite interpretations to any given event and text—something which he takes for granted and ignores in his own argument. The biggest problem of all is Peterson’s interpretation of postmodernism that involves generalizing every 20th century intellectual discourse as if it had a Marxist agenda. To put this in Peterson’s own words, Peterson radically overplays his own hand through a generalization that can only impress those who has never picked up a 20th century continental text. This naïve gesture, while appearing to be intelligent when interpreted by the masses, will also strike many as dishonest, ignorant and inconsiderate due to his misunderstandings of many 20th century continental ideas.

This is not to say that Peterson’s arguments are outright incorrect. As we will see, there are similarities between Derrida and Peterson that are only differentiated by context and intention. Contrary to expectations, one can even see similarities between Peterson and Marxism. For example, Peterson’s argument that schools are teaching children Marxist ideologies is actually a famous Marx / Engels argument against capitalism (Base and Superstructure). Unfortunately, my attempts at maintaining this post at a relative length will restrict me from speaking about Marx today.

Deconstruction and Meaning

One of Derrida’s most important argument is how there are infinite interpretations to any given event and text (I wrote about this here). This is the result of how the extraction of meaning is based on our subjective phenomenological intentions (in this case, your intentions). Derrida famously makes this claim by deconstructing Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology in his key text called Speech and Phenomena published in 1967. Phenomenology is the study of intentionality through consciousness and the temporal manifestation of space and time (Cartesian Meditations and Logical Investigations)

Let us examine the famous Derridean saying, “Deconstruction deconstructs itself” and how it can possibly yield to political thoughts. Due to the temporal effects of your intentions as you read this text, the meaning of “deconstruction” is only possible until you interpret this word through your own intentionality. Regardless of this phenomenon, “deconstruction” is a translation of Martin Heidegger’s term “destruktion” which in several other instances, Derrida also translates as “solicitation” and “shaking up”. As a result, deconstruction by itself (the word in-itself) is not a political tool. Rather, it is you who would possibly interpret deconstruction (or Derrida’s ideas) as a political tool through your own intentions. Deconstruction “is” the interpretative gesture (the act; verb) of reading a text or event and how such gesture undermines itself as one reads through phenomenological and ontological intentions. At the very interpretative “center” (contexts)—that is, at the center of your intentionality as a function in relation to other centers—the deconstructive project has nothing to do with politics. Instead, it is this gesture of interpretation relating to other interpretations (differences) that is responsible for constituting politics (though I am sure some Derrideans would disagree with me and argue that there were politics since the very beginning of Derrida’s thoughts). In other words, what a subject does ethically, politically, or philosophically will depend on how and where one situate themselves within these centers of interpretations (Structure, Sign, and Play). For example, of how you interpret the word “deconstruction” (i.e. whether it is political or not)—which deconstructs itself as you interpret the word.

Accordingly, Peterson agrees with Derrida’s argument of infinite interpretation, but only that we as interpreters of the world and texts, should only extract the “good” and “useful” things which helps guide one to living in our society (Peterson says it here). Certainly, this is already at least two ways of interpreting a text. And as I have already pointed out, Peterson does exactly this: interpreting Derrida and postmodernism under a Marxist lens. Whether one reads the text through pessimism or as a way to live amongst other people is also determined by the reader’s intentions. It isn’t that one should not interpret anything “useful” or “good” out of literature, but rather, one should be cautious of what they interpret and claim as “useful” or “good” because the two terms are subject to “pure morphology”—that the possibility of a meaningful discourse (or the possibility of a truth), whatever it may be (political, surreal, sexual, etc.), is born from your interpretation of these words.

If we understand how Peterson interprets Derrida and postmodernism through a Marxist lens based on his own intentions, we will understand Peterson’s claim that people interpret the world / texts through the means of facilitating their own acquisition of power—precisely, of what is “good” and “useful” for them. The acquisition of power is only possible through one’s desire for power (something which will be crucial once we get to Lacanian psychoanalysis). Most of the things we do are self-serving towards individual desires which often undermines others (there are many reasons why I say this; it largely has to do with human nature and the ideology of capitalism). For Peterson, this is what we see amongst the postmodernists, as he points out that feminists desires for the acquisition of power / rights. However, this argument on the acquisition of power merits truth not only towards postmodernists and feminists, but for everyone including Peterson. Indeed, one should go as far as questioning Peterson’s interpretations of Derrida and his own arguments: are not Peterson’s political maneuvers directed towards his own desire for power? But let us not pursue this any further, for my intention is about Derrida’s thoughts. Nevertheless, we can begin to see that Peterson’s argument on one’s desire for power is also apparent in Derrida’s thoughts: since there are infinite amount of interpretations to any event or text, the reader only reads what they desire to understand out of any particular event or text. Here, Peterson and Derrida appears to be making similar arguments (because I think they are), even when they are speaking about them under very different intentions.

Postmodernism as Post-…

Marx is a big precursor to postmodernism and no one can deny this. I think it is partly true that postmodernism is a re-branded term for Marxism because some postmodern thinkers such as Louis Althusser were greatly influenced by him. Perhaps Marxism is most apparent in Frankfurt School even if its scholars are usually not considered as postmodernists. Most Frankfurt scholars were (and still are) incredibly influential amongst the humanities and fine art disciplines.

It is not surprising that the term “postmodernism” is such a vague term that many of the figures that are categorized in it do not associate themselves with such label. The fact is, many mid-late 20th century continental philosophies are not about Marx, but a response to Husserl’s phenomenology, and to a great extent, on Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Ferdinand de Saussure and G.W.F Hegel. Even Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time, which influenced many 20th century “postmodern” scholars, was written dedicated to Husserl “in admiration and friendship” (Heidegger was Husserl’s student). To name a few more: Jacques Derrida, Jean-Paul Sartre, Emmanuel Levinas and Maurice Merleau-Ponty can all be considered as post-phenomenologists. The former three were also hugely influenced by Heidegger and Nietzsche. Then there is Jacques Lacan who we will discuss momentarily, that is influenced by Freud (especially), Hegel, and Heidegger. Finally, there are others like Gilles Deleuze whose magnum opus, Difference and Repetition, was influenced by Nietzsche’s concept of “the eternal return”.

(Phal)Logocentrism and the Psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan

There is a very long and complicated relationship between Derrida and Lacan. The two actually don’t agree with each other on many levels (i.e. Derrida is a critic of Lacan and vice versa). I am just going to highlight some ideas between the two because it is really hard to introduce them unless you have actually put in the time on learning their ideas.

The word logocentrism (“logos” is the ancient Greek word of “λόγος” which means “reason”, “speech”, “word” and “discourse”) focuses on how civilization privileges speech over writing. As Aristotle puts it: “Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience and written words are the symbols of spoken words”. This implies that speech is the primary mode of acquiring truth since it is closest proximity to our mental thoughts (inner monologue). For Derrida, such idea is eclipsed once we recognize how speech is overlapped by the fact that when one reads a text, the text is also in direct relation with one’s spoken thought through “hearing-oneself-speak” (auto-affection). In other words, one hears their own speech in their heads as they read the text (i.e. as you read this text). To put it simply, the “binary opposition” between speech and writing are one and of the same contradiction. Speech and writing just different forms used to represent the same (English) language. [There are more complications to this once you get into the way Derrida reads Rousseau—something that I wrote about here].

To be logocentric involves two main aspects: First, logocentrism is to ignore the historical practice that all production of truth and knowledge are acquired through the interpretation of writing or language in general—namely from interpreting books or events (this is to say that inscription is only one form of writing and that everything around us that we see is also a writing). Second, this privileging of logos (reason) is when one favors the system of logical grammar as they constitute meaning based on their phenomenological interpretation of texts. We don’t just interpret anything from texts and events, we privilege on extracting the logical (grammatical) aspects of it. This latter idea is from G.W.F Hegel (Lectures on the History of Philosophy) which Derrida cited in his early seminars from the 1960s.

With logocentrism, phallogocentrism (phal = phallus) is combined with the thoughts of Jacques Lacan who rebuilt Freudian psychoanalysis into his own school known as Lacanian psychoanalysis. Phallogocentrism was a term that was not coined by Derrida, but by one of his good friend Helene Cixous—who is quite an incredible feminist scholar. For those who are familiar with Lacan, he was infamously renown for proclaiming the absence of feminine sexuality. The passage, “there is no such thing as woman”, is one of the most misinterpreted and controversial sentence of Lacan (Seminar XX). To help us understand this claim, let us understand two crucial points. First, phallogocentrism points to the idea that the construction of language and meaning is privileged towards the masculine and is phallic in nature (from readings of Freud; the symbolic). This meaning is known as the master signifier which functions as an anchoring point by fixing a specific meaning in place (Seminar XVII). Therefore secondly, the claim that there are no feminine sexuality was made not because there are no feminine sexuality, but because there are no symbolic language which can describe it. In order to explain feminine sexuality, one must go in excess (surplus) of the signifier which in this case, is what lacks within the signifier (I will get to this). Expanding from Freud’s ideas of woman’s penis envy, Lacan thinks it isn’t always the actual penis woman desire, but the symbolic and patriarchal power behind the phallus. Phallogocentrism points to how our intentions of interpreting the world and the way we construct meaning / language are inherently phallic from the beginning. One privileges and desires for phallic (patriarchal) power and meaning for their own gains—even if one is a self-proclaimed feminist. On the other hand, to take on the position of feminine sexuality is to actually, in many ways, interpret the world through the experience of love (or the experience of lack).

Due to this, feminist Helene Cixous developed a “woman’s writing” (ecriture feminine) that tried to challenge masculine-privileged construction of meaning by—as Lacan would remark on James Joyce“stuffing the signifier” with literary allusions. For Lacan, Joyce is the perfect example of woman’s writing because it shows the excess point where the signifier can no longer sustain itself due to the abundance of literary allusions. By compressing allusions into signifiers, one will recognize what lacks in them—namely, the contradiction of the missing literary allusions (this excess lack [of phallic signifier] is where feminine sexuality arises). Certainly, one may think that Joyce is a man (with a phallus) who can’t possibly produce a woman’s writing. For Lacan, sexuality is not determined by our reproductive organs, but by how one experiences sexual enjoyment (such experience is also not completely a conscious one). To be sure, sexual enjoyment can be experienced in all sorts of ways through sublimation, and not just via methods of copulation with object a (object cause of desire; objet petit a) that can never be attained. In context of Joyce, the stuffed signifier is our object of desirewe desire to understand the allusions and meanings that Joyce compresses in his writing which can never be anchored as stable “phallic” signifiers. Through sublimation, reading and speaking becomes a form of desire for sexual satisfaction. This is why Lacan once famously said, “For the moment, I am not fucking, I am talking to you. Well! I can have exactly the same satisfaction as if I were fucking.”

Phallogocentrism, as Peterson says, relates to how “culture is male dominated” which he thinks is a “radical simplification of the historical story”. As we can see, not only is psychoanalysis far from being a simplification of history, Peterson’s claim that feminists desires for the acquisition of power is reaffirmed by Lacan (in some ways): that some people desire for symbolic phallic power that is inherent in language / meaning. Phallogocentrism is not “exactly” used to describe how the male dominates the female under the the historicity of economical conditions as Peterson thinks (though I do not doubt this claim under his intentions). And despite Derrida who had always been a critic of psychoanalysis (Resistances of Psychoanalysis), phallogocentrism speaks about the problems in the history of philosophy under the context of Husserl, Heidegger, Lacanian psychoanalysis and the privileging of phallic signifier (man) over the lack of one in a woman (i.e. we value man over woman). Yet, we must not rule out Peterson’s argument (on men being economically marginalized) with Lacan’s thoughts. In order to speak of Petersons argument from Lacanian perspective, one would have to begin with what Lacan calls the Master’s discourse (or Capitalist discourse) in conjunction with his readings on G.W.F Hegel’s master-slave dialectic (Seminar XVII). Something which I shall leave for another time.

What I am trying to point out in this post is the differences in disciplines and how there is a whole history behind psychoanalysis and Derrida’s deconstruction that Peterson had never thought of simply because he was not trained in it.

Standard