Lacan confronts the theory of object relations defended by the ‘’Société Psychanalytique de Paris’’: Freud did not bother about the object, he cared about "the lack of the object." This lack has nothing to do with frustration.
It is a matter of a renunciation that involves the law of the Father: "...between the mother and the child, Freud introduced a third and imaginary term whose signifying role is a major one: the phallus."
In his analysis of Little Hans, Lacan states that anxiety arises when the subject is poised between the imaginary preoedipical triangle and the Oedipical quaternary: Hans' real penis makes itself felt in infantile masturbation. Anxiety arises since he can now measure the difference between that for what he is loved (his position as imaginary phallus) and what he really has to give (his insignificant real organ). The subject would have been rescued from anxiety by the castrating intervention of the real father, but the father fails to separate the child from the mother and thus Hans develops a phobia as a substitute for this intervention.
It is not Hans' separation from the mother which produces anxiety, but failure to separate from her. Castration, far from being the main source of anxiety, is what actually saves the subject from it.
We find imaginary solutions to the gap (‘’béance’’) produced by the appearance of the phallus "as that which is lacking in the mother, in the mother and the child, and between the mother and the child," because the father alone is the bearer or possessor of the phallus. Lacan establishes three modes of rapport to this object: frustration (the imaginary damage done to a real object, the penis as organ), deprivation ( the real lack or hole created by the loss of a symbolic object, the phallus as signifier), castration (the symbolic debt in the register of the law and the loss of the phallus as imaginary object).
The mother falls from "the Symbolic to the Real" while the objects, through the mediation of the phallus, fall from "the Real to the Symbolic."
The fall of the mother leads to the structuring preference for the father.
Lacan muses about the way in which "the feminine object conceives the object relation." Lacan talks of motherhood, love, a case of feminine homosexuality (Freud's 1920) in which he sees a type of relation to lack and to the father. As to the phallus and sexual difference, Lacan argues that in order to assume castration every child must renounce the possibility of being the phallus of the mother; this "rapport to the phallus is established without regard to the anatomical difference of the sexes."
The renunciation of identification with the imaginary phallus paves the way for a rapport with the symbolic phallus which is different for the sexes: the male has the symbolic phallus, i.e. "he is not without having it" - woman does not. Yet the male can only lay claim to the symbolic phallus if he assumes castration, i.e. to give up being the imaginary phallus. Further, the woman's lack of symbolic phallus is in itself a kind of possession.
The Real Phallus
Lacan uses the term penis to denote the biological organ and reserves the term phallus to denote the imaginary and symbolic functions of this organ.
However, he does not always maintain the usage.
This argues that the distinction between penis and phallus is somewhat unstable and that "the phallus concept is the site of a regression towards the biological organ" (David Macey). The penis has an important role to play in the Oedipus complex. It is via this organ that the child's sexuality is felt in masturbation.
The intrusion of the real in the imaginary preoedipical triangle transforms the triangle from something pleasurable to something which provokes anxiety.
The question posed by Oedipus is where the real phallus is located, the answer to the riddle is that it is located in the real father.
The Imaginary Phallus
In the distinction between penis and phallus, the latter refers to an imaginary object. The imaginary phallus is perceived by the child as an object of the mother's desire, as that which she desire ahead of the child, thus the child seeks to identify with this object. The Oedipus and the castration complex imply the renunciation of the attempt to be the imaginary phallus.
The Symbolic Phallus
The phallus which circulates between mother and child posits the first dialectic in the child's life which, though imaginary, frames the symbolic. An imaginary element is mobilized - the phallus becomes an imaginary signifier. The phallus is a symbolic object; it is a signifier. The doctrine becomes systematized in ‘’Les formations de l'inconscient’’. In the 1960s the phallus is described as "the signifier of the desire of the Other" and the signifier of jouissance. Also the notion of ‘’objet a’’, the cause of desire, will be added to that of the phallus.
- Le séminaire, Livre IV: La relation d'objet et les structures freudiennes, 1956-1957. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1994.