Talk:The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious

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1960 (35 pp.)-SUBVERSION DU SUJET ET DIALECnaUE DU DESIR DANS L'INCONSCIENT FREUDIEN (SUBVERSION OF THE SUBJECT AND DIALEcnC OF DESIRE IN THE FREUDIAN UNCONSCIOUS)-l966 At the colloquium on dialectic organized by Jean Wahl at Royaumont, Lacan defended, in front of an audience of distinguished philosophers, three asser�tions: psychoanalysis, insofar as it elaborates its theory from its praxis, must have a scientific status; the Freudian discovery has definitively and radically changed the concepts of the subject, of knowledge, and of desire~ the analytic. field is the only one from where it is possible to efficiently interrogate the insufficiencies or the blind spots of science and philosophy. He adopted a double position on these assertions. In front of non analysts he spoke in the name of his analytic experience; among analysts, he was the only one who was truly determined to make up for a certain "theoretical nullitY coupled with abuses in the way in which theory [was 1 passed on." Then he made the wager that it would not take him very long to present what indeed had to be called his system. 1 This text is difficult to grasp both in its formulations and in its articulations, ~ and it functions on several levels: the philosophical level, provided a radical criticism of the philosophical posiiion IS made;the mathematic~L~~el, pro�vided there is a "distortion of the mathematical aigorithm for our use"; the linguistic level, which led Lacan to assert that "language is the condition of the unconscious" (75), with the reservation that "the unconscious is the con�dition of linguistics" (77); the metaphysical level if one accepts that the analyst "does not have to answer for any ultimate truth" since there is no Other of the Other to guarantee him (41); and finally, the analytical level if one preserves the ambiguity between the discourse in analysis and the discourse about analysis, in which the high level o( abstraction requires re�course to concepts of other disciplines. Is this text, then, "half-scientific, half-metaphorical," as he himself said? This does not mean that the two halves could be juxtaposed to complement each other. It is at once both yet neither 4uitc one nor thc othcr. From this point of view, th~~i~l~ i~xem�plary of Lacanian writing. The subjcct of psychoanalysis is neither Hegel's absolute subject, nor the abolisl~ed subject of Science. I!_is a su.!Jj~~t i!!em~_~i'!.~ly divided by the emer- i I gcnce_?f the.~ig!lifier. Regarding the subject of the unconscious, it is impos�sible to know who speaks. This subject is nlerely "the'place of the 'inte'r-said' (illter:ditl ~ whlCllls the 'intra-said' (intra-ditl of a between-two-subjects," it is cOlislciiltly subjccted to the effects of fading provoked by "its occultation by an ever purer signifier." It is "the pure subject of the enunciation," which -9the pronoun I in a statement indicates but does not signify. The argument ,\ produces some nice flights of rhetoric: "An enuriciatlOn {lnlt denounces itself. a statement that renounces itself, ignorance that dissipates itself, an opportu�nity that loses itself, what remains here if not the trace of what must be in ordcr to fall from being?" The key concept here is that of desire. However, Lacan's dialectic of desire is very different from Hegel's. The heart of this text lies in the graph of {~esire. elaborated during the seminar on Les Formations de {' inconscient(36) ~iiid revised here, improved, and commented upon differently. Lacan wanted to transform this graph into a real topology of the different steps constitutive of the subject. In its complete version it is supposed to be the synthesis and the ordering of all previous theorizations since the mirror stage. Ultimately, it is supposed to answer all the questions raised in psychoanalysis. Thus, one can understand why this text is at the center of Lacan's teaching-with a bonus of j. IIIler-dil suggests both "inter-said," what is said between two subjects, and prohi�bition, illlerdil. pleasure (or of <:.Q!lsolation): "it is precisely because desire is articulated that it is not articulable." One can try to follow this zigzag trajectory of the subject, this poor com�batant. One can try to orient oneseiflilthemuIITple definitions of the Other, to get interested in the new adventures of the phallus, and to meditate on the answer to the question "Who am I?": "I am in the place from which a voice is heard c1amouring 'the universe is a defect in the purity of Non-Being'." One may, or may n,ot,,!>e happy that a human being is condemned to talk instead of make love, and one may prefer the state-ment accordiilgtowhich it II is "not the law that bars the subject's access to jouissance but pleasure," that is, life. Don't forget the final sentence, added in 1966: "Castratiol!.me~hat jouissance must be refused, so that it can be reached on thl;. inverted ladder [echelle renversee] of the Law of desire."


The subversion of the subject and the dialectic of desire in the Freudian unconscious (1960)

Lacan's work, like psychoanalysis generally, draws heavily on literature. Gradually, however, his writings seem to move in the direction of science: first, linguistics, and later, mathematics. This paper is full of algorithms and graphs and exemplifies the drive towards 'science'.

The paper examines the way in which Freud's notion of the unconsciou,s has overturned the traditional concept of the subject. Lacan claims that because of the dominating role of the signifier (language) in the constitution of the human subject, one can no longer think of the subject in terms of positivist scientific thought. The subject cannot be conceived as an objectively knowable thing (a signified). Instead, Lacan argues, one has to think in terms of a different kind of knowledge, for the subject arises in relation to desire which is unknown to him or her.

Lacan's concept of truth can be related to his view of psychoanalytic knowledge. In his view truth is essentially disturbing and, as Freud demonstrated, expresses itself in the unconscious. The apparently unknown knowledge in the unconscious speaks. It says what it knows, while the subject does not know it. For Lacan, the unconscious is the language, or form, through which this knowledge about truth is always and exclusively represented.

Lacan made an interesting distinction between linguistics, the science concerned with the formalisation of knowledge, and La Linguisterie, concerned with the side of language that linguistics had left unformalised. La Linguisterie is the language with which the unconscious is concerned, and which psychoanalysis can decipher at the moments when the ordinary language structure is interrupted, or breaks down as in jokes, dreams and parapraxes. La Linguisterie speaks about what cannot be consciously known. Unconscious truth often appears unacceptable, stupid, marginal or unacceptable.

Lacan placed, the function and structure of language in the forefront of his theory. The 10gic:6f the unconscious appears, for example, in the analytic relationship when the analyst finds her- or himself listening to different orders in a discourse. Suppose an analysand says 'I think I do not exist.' What is happening here? The first'!' indicates the subject of the enunciation (enonciation, the act of uttering the words) but does not signify the subject's existence, which is considered in the'!, of the statement (enonce, the actual words uttered), 'I do not exist.' One is faced here with what Lacan called a cut (coupure) between different orders of discourse - where, on the one hand, the subject enunciates his or her symbolic existence as the 'I' who speaks and thinks, but then denies this existence at the level of the statement, 'I do not exist.'

It should be emphasised that the Lacanian view of the unconscious revolves around the question of lack, the lack of being that results from the subject's dependence on the Other. One can see certain similarities between the Lacanian concept of lack of being and the Freudian theory of the death drive (which aims to bring the living being back to the inorganic state).

Lacan illustrated the relationship between the subject and his death with a dream referred to by Freud. Freud argued that ~ dreams do not differentiate between what is wished and what is l-e~or instance, a man who had nursed his father during his last illness a~ been deeply grieved by his death, had the following dream: 'His fathe~as again alive and he was talking to him as of old. But as he did so~e felt it exceedingly painful that his father was nevertheless dead, Qnly did not know it.'19

Freud wrote that, at bottom, dreams are nothing other than a particular form of thinking, made possible by the conditions of the state of sleep. We must not focus on the 'hidden meaning', the latent content, but centre our attention on the form itself, on the dream-work. We must ask: why does this content assume this particular form? We should remember that there are always three elements at work: the manifest dream-text, the latent dreamcontent or thought, and the unconscious desire. This desire attaches itself to the dream, it intercalates itself in the interspace between the latent thought and the manifest text. According to Freud, dreams function to the pleasure principle, that is, according to the dreamer's wish. The pleasure principle is the reign of wishes, unbridled by reality. The father was dead, only did not know that the dreamer wished it. Freud remarks: 'It is thus a matter of the familiar case of self-reproaches after the loss of a loved person, and in this case the reproach goes back to the infantile significance of the death-wish against the father.' In Beyond the Pleasure Principle Freud explained that the repetition of painful experiences in dreams and children's play is an attempt to master an exceedingly painful event by taking over the position of author of this event. The dream, described above, is an illustration of the repetition compulsion and the death drive that are beyond the pleasure principle.

In Lacan's view, the dead father dream expresses not only the Oedipal desire for the father's death but also a more radical death drive or 'death desire'.2o The Oedipal wish is not only a wish for the father's death, but also and as centrally a wish to be in the father's place. If one tries to think at one and the same time the desire to be in the' father's place, one risks facing the desire for one's own death.

In considering the dream, Lacan focuses on the topic of knowledge and he makes a distinction between savoir and connaissance, which runs through the first part of this paper. The two words can both be translated as 'knowledge'. Lacan distinguishes between a biological i,nstinct which is a connaissance without savoir, and what we find in Freud, which is a savoir without connaissance.21 Connaissance in this paper is associated with psychology and its perception of the person as a unified whole with natural developmental states. Savoir is associated wit~ Hegel, language, unconscious knowledge and desire. Underlying Lacan's theory of desire is the concept of drive. His notion of drive implies the 'drifting' movement of desire. There is a sense in which the subject does not know where the current is going and so does not have what is called connaissance.

Lacan then focuses on the nature of the subject's being. He argues that the subject has a basic dependence on the Other. In a way, the Other is the real witness and guarantor of the subject's existence. The subject's basic dependence on the Other is clear when we think of the mother's role in relation to the infant. She looks after the infant, calls it by a name and tells it who it is. She is the M-Other who created it. The Other is the 'place' fhere the subject is born. The Other was there before the subject) birth, but the-mother is also a subject, itself based on a lack of being. The mother's love cannot be absolute as she cannot fulfil this absolute demand for love made by the infant. No matter how much she gives it and how much its needs are satisfied, the mother can never fill the void she shares with her child. The demand for love goes beyond the objects that satisfy need. As Lacan says, Desire takes shape in the margin in which demand is torn apart from need.22

But what is the object which unchains desire? The object a, objet (a)utre, is the object of desire permeated and mobilised by lack. The objet a represents the lacking or lost object. It is the object of desire on its way to becoming the cause and condition of desire as well. It always escapes the subject. The objet a may be an orifice, a breast; it has something to do with an edge or cut: 'The lips, the enclosure formed by the teeth, the rim of the anus, the tip of the penis, the vagina, the slit formed by the eyelids .. .' To this list Lacan adds the phoneme, the gaze, the voice.23

Perhaps it would be best to describe objet a as the cause of desire. In a sense it is the phallus which the child wishes to be in order to complete its mother, the symbolic complement of its own lack. It is the object of the radical lack lived by the child who is separated at birtlyfrom its mother. It is the first image to fill in the crack of separaliion. In short, the objet a (sometimes calledYhe objet-petit-a) is the signifier of desire. I mentioned j st now the lack of being of the mother. T . s is represented, accor, ing to Lacan, by the signifier of the allus, which she does not I:l: ve and which she desires. The' ant identifies with the phallus, as e object lacking to, a esired by, the mother; and hence how s/he . ks her- 0 . mself to her lack of being through the phallus. But however strong the dual imaginary mother-child relationship is, a third term intervenes - the Other, the father. The father brings back the mother to her own lack of a phallus, that is to say, to her castration. The mother looks for what she does not have, by receiving the phallus from the father, or by identifying it with her child. The child identifies with the phallus in order to satisfy its mother's desire. The phallus also signifies the law of symbolic castration for it belongs to the father, the Other who forbids the enjoyment of the mother-child 'symbiosis'.

The phallus signifies sexual difference. It is what splits human beings into what Lacan called 'sexed partial beings'. In Aristophanes's famous myth, described in Plato's Symposium, each sexual half is looking desperately for the other complementary half; Lacan believes that the subject's search for his or her sexual complement is replaced by the search for that part of her- or himself that is lost for ever, owing to the fact that he or she is a sexed partial being.

One effect of Lacan's concern with desire is the displacement of the concept libido (the word Freud used to describe the force of the 'sexual desire'). Lacan always uses the term libido sparingly it is ousted by 'desire'. In later years, in Lacan's own writings, desire tends to be eclipsed gradually by jouissance.

What is jouissance? The human subject is confronted by the unconscious which is striving to express what is really forbidden to the speaking subject - jouissance and death. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle Freud said that 'there exists in the mind a strong tendency towards the pleasure principle, but that tendency is opposed - ~by certain other forces or circumstances'. Lacan makes an important distinction betweenplai~ir (pleasure) and jouissance, a term which signifies the ecstatic or orgasmic enjoyment - and exquisite pain - of something or someone. Jouissance goes beyond plaisir. In French, jouissance includes the enjoyment of rights and property, but also the slang verb, jouir, to come, and so is related to the pleasure of the sexual act. But it also refers to those moments when too much pleasure is pain. Jouissance, then, is not pleasure in pain - that is masochism.

Jouissance is unconscious, it is unconscious pleasure which becomes pain. An example: while listening to music the other day I burst out crying without knowing, why. Jouissance begins where pleasure ends. When jouissance becomes conscious it is no longer jouissance, it is merely pleasure. Jouissance occurs when physical pain becomes un physical pleasure. Now, plaisir is bound to desire as a defence against jouissance. Jouissance, like death, represents something whose limits cannot be overcome.