The Function of the Veil

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From The Function of the Veil (IX in Seminar 4, The Object Relation)


    Analysis tells us that the fetish is a symbol.  In this regard, it is almost immediately set on the same footing as every other neurotic symptom.

    But if, with fetishism, it is not a matter of a neurosis, but of a perversion, that does not say it all.  It is thus that things are classified, nosographically speaking, for apparently clinical reasons which without any doubt have a certain value, but it is necessary to look rather closely to confirm it within the structure, from the analytic point of view.  In truth, many authors here show some hesitation, and go to the point of putting fetishism at the limit of perversions and neuroses, precisely because of the electively symbolic character of the crucial fantasm.

    Beginning with the top of the structure, let us stop for a moment at this intermediate position which amounts to the fact that what is loved within the object of love is something which is beyond.  This something is nothing without doubt, but has this property of being there symbolically.  Because it is symbol, not only can it but it must be this nothing.  What is it that may materialize for us, in the clearest way, this intermediate relation which makes it the case that what is aimed at lies beyond what is made present? -- if not this, which is truly one of the most fundamental images of the human relation to the world, the veil, the curtain.

The veil, the curtain in front of something, is again what lets us best picture the fundamental love situation. One may even say that with the presence of the curtain what is beyond as lack tends to be realized as image. Absence is painted upon the veil. This is nothing other than the function of a curtain, whatever it may be. The curtain gets its value, its being and its consistency, from being clearly that upon which absence is projected and imagined. The curtain is, if one may say, the idol of absence. If the veil of Maya is the most common metaphor in use to express the relation of man with everything which captivates him, that is not undoubtedly without reason, but surely sustains the sentiment that man has a certain basic illusion within all the relations woven from his desire. It is indeed that in which man incarnates, makes an idol of, his feeling of this nothing which is beyond the object of love.

    You should keep this fundamental schema in mind if you wish to correctly situate the elements which come into play in the institution of the fetish relation, at whatever moment we consider it.  

<img src="fetish.jpeg" height="193" width="325">
    Here is the subject, the object, and this beyond which is nothing, or again the symbol, or again the phallus insofar as it is missing for woman.  But from the moment that the curtain is placed, upon it may be painted something which says -- the object is beyond.  The object may then take the place of the lack, and be also as such the support for love, but it is insofar as it is clearly not the point where desire attaches itself.  In a certain way, desire appears here as metaphor of love, but what attaches to it, that is the object, appears, itself, insofar as illusory, and insofar as valued as illusory.

    The famous splitting  of the ego  when it is a matter of the fetish, is explained to us by saying that the woman's castration is at once affirmed and denied.  The fetish being there, it is that she has clearly not lost the phallus, but by the same token, she may be made to lose it, which is to say castrated.   The ambiguity of the relation with the fetish is constant, and without end manifested in the symptoms.  This ambiguity which is confessed to be experienced, an illusion sustained and cherished as such, is at the same time experienced within a fragile equilibrium which is at 

each instant at the mercy of the falling and raising of the curtain. It is this relation that is of concern in the relation of the fetishist to his object.

    When we follow his text, Freud speaks of Verleugnung  with respect to the fundamental position of denial in the relation to the fetish.  But he says as well that it is a matter of making to remain standing, aufrecht zu halten,  to wit this complex relation, as would be said of a piece of theatrical scenery.  Freud's language, so vivid and precise at once, includes terms which here get all their value.  The horror of castration, he says, is in itself posed within this creation of a substitute, a monument.  The fetish is a Denkmal.  The word trophy  is not explicitly used, but in truth it is there, doubling for the sign of triumph, das Zeichen des Triumphes.  Many times authors, in an approach to the typical phenomenon of the fetish, will speak of that through which the subject will herald his relation with sex.  Freud here lets us take another step.

    Why does that happen?  Why is it necessary?  We will come back to it.  As always one goes too fast.  If one goes first to the why one enters immediately into a chaos and pandemonium of all the drives, which crowd in there to explain what makes the subject be more or less far from the object and feel himself arrested or threatened by it, in conflict with it.  Let's stay for the moment with the structure.

    The structure is here in the relation of the beyond and the veil.  Upon the veil may be imaged, which is to say instituted as imaginary capture and place of desire, the relation to a beyond, which is fundamental in every institution of the symbolic relation.  It is a matter here of the incursion upon the imaginary plane of the ternary rhythm subject-object

beyond, which is fundamental to the symbolic relation. In other words, within the function of the veil it is a matter of the projection of the intermediary position of the object.

    Before going further and approaching the demand which creates the subject's need for a veil, we will notice another slant beneath which there is also an institution of a symbolic relation within the imaginary.

    I spoke to you last time, with respect to the perverse structure, of metonymy, and also of allusion and of the connection between the lines, which are elevated forms of metonymy.  In the clearest way, Freud says nothing else, and nearly uses the word metonymy.  What constitutes the fetish, the symbolic element which fixes the fetish and projects it upon 

the veil, is borrowed specially from the historical dimension. It is the moment of the story when the image is arrested.

    I remember having formerly employed the comparison with the film which is suddenly frozen, just before the moment when what is sought for in the mother, which is to say this phallus which she has and which she doesn't have, must be seen insofar as presence-absence, and absence

presence. The recollection of the story is halted and suspended at the moment just prior.

    I speak of recollection of the story, for there is no other sense to be given to the term screen-memory, which is so fundamental within the freudian phenomenology and conceptualization.  The screen-memory, the Deckerinnerung, is not simply an instant, it is an interruption in the story, a moment when it is stopped and frozen, and when, by the same token, it indicates the pursuit of its movement beyond the veil.  The screen

memory is tied back to the story by a whole chain, it is an arrest within this chain, and it is in this way that it is metonymical, for the story, by its nature, continues. In being stopped there, the chain indicates its henceforth veiled continuation, its absent sequel, that is the repression of which it is a matter, as Freud clearly says.

    We are speaking of repression only insofar as there is a symbolic chain.  If one may designate as the point of a repression a phenomenon which may pass for imaginary, for the fetish is in a certain way an image, and projected image, it is that this image is only the limiting point between the story insofar as it is continued, and the moment beginning from which it is interrupted.  It is the sign, the marker, of the point of repression.

    If you read Freud's text closely, you will see that this way of articulating things gives in the clearest way the full weight to the expressions he uses.

Once more, we see here distinguished the relation to the object of love and the relation of frustration to the object. These are two different relations. It is by a metaphor that love is transferred to the desire which is attached to the object as illusory, while the constitution of the object is not metaphorical, but metonymical. It is a point within the chain of the story, there where the story is arrested. It is the sign that it is there that the beyond constituted by the subject begins. Why? Why is it there that the subject must constitute this beyond? Why is the veil more

precious to man than reality? Why does the order of this illusory relation become an essential constituent, necessary, to his relation with the object? That is the question posed by fetishism.

Before going further, you can already see all sorts of things be clarified beginning with, up to, and including the fact that Freud gives us as the first example of an analysis of fetishism this marvelous story of the pun. A man who had spent his early childhood in England and who had come to make himself a fetishist in Germany, always appeared to have a rather shiny nose, which he moreover noticed, ein Glanz auf die Nase. This meant nothing other than a glance on the nose, which nose was itself, certainly, a symbol. The german expression only effected a transposition of the english expression a glance at the nose, which came to him from his first years. You see here come into play and project itself at a point on the veil, the narrative chain, which may even contain a quite different phrase, and more still, a phrase in a forgotten language.

What are the causes of the institution of the fetishist structure? On that the grammarians assure us of nothing.


    For some time authors have been very embarrassed.  On the one hand we can not lose contact with the idea that the genesis of fetishism is essentially articulated with the castration complex.  On the other hand, it is within preoedipal relations, and nowhere else, that it appears most certain that the phallic mother is the central element, the decisive spring.  How are we to put these two things together?

    These authors do so more or less easily.  Let us simply observe the ease, moreover the means, that the members of the english school can find here thanks to Melanie Klein's system.  She structures the first stages of the oral drives, particularly in their most aggressive moment, by introducing there the presence of the paternal penis through retroactive projection, which is to say in making the Oedipus complex retroactive within the first object relations insofar as introjectible.  One thus has a more easy access to a material which will permit the interpretation of what is at issue.  Since I have never yet launched an exhaustive critique of the meaning of Melanie Klein's system, we will set aside for the moment what this or that author may bring to this proposal.  To keep to what we have been discussing, let's begin with the fundamental relation which is that of the real child, the symbolic mother, and her phallus which is for her imaginary.

    This is a schema to modify with care, for it is concentrated on a single plane, while it responds in fact to diverse planes and as it enters into the function of successive steps in the story.   For a long time effectively, the child is not up to appropriating the relation of imaginary belonging which creates the deep division from the mother in respect to him.  We will attempt to shed light on this question this year.  We are on the road to seeing how and at what moment that comes into play for the child, how the entry of the child into the relation to the symbolic object happens, insofar as the phallus is the major currency of it.  There are temporal, chronological questions here, of the order of succession, which we are trying to approach, as we lay out the story of psychoanalysis from the angle of pathology.

    What do observations show us when they are nearly stripped bare?  They show us phenomena which are manifested in correlation with this singular symptom which places the subject within an elective relation to a fetish, the fascinating object inscribed upon the veil, around which gravitates his erotic life.  I say gravitates  for it is certain that the subject conserves a certain liberty of movement, which one sees within analysis when one does not make a simply clinical description.  To make an observation, one sees very well the elements which I have already articulated for you today and which Binet had already signaled, for example this gripping point of the screen-memory, which fixes the arrest at the bottom of the mother's dress, even her corset, or again the essentially ambiguous relation of the subject to the fetish,  a relation of illusion, experienced as such, and as such preferred, and also the particularly satisfying function of an inert object, fully at the mercy of the subject for the manipulation of his erotic relations.  All that is seen within an observation, but it takes analysis to discriminate a bit more closely what takes place each time that, for whatever reason, the recourse to the fetish flags, is extended, is used, or simply hides.

    Amorous behavior, and more simply the subject's erotic relation, is summarized in a defense.  You can grab hold of it by reading in the International Journal the observations of Mrs. Sylvia Payne, XX-2, Mr. Gillespie, Mrs. Greenacre, Mr. Dugmore Hunter, XXXV-3, or again works 

which appeared in the Psycho-Analytic 'Study of the Child. that was also noticed by Freud, and is articulated in our schema. Freud tells us that fetishism is a defense against homosexuality, and Mr. Gilespie notes that the margin between the two is very thin. Briefly, we find in the relations to the amorous object which organize this cycle with the fetishist an alternation of identifications. Identification with the woman, confronted by the destructor penis, the imaginary phallus of primordial experiences from the oral-anal period, centered upon the aggressivity of the sadistic theory of coitus, and in effect, many experiences brought to light by analysis demonstrate an observation of the primitive scene perceived as cruel, aggressive, violent, even murderous. Inversely, identification of the subject with the imaginary phallus, which makes him a pure object for the woman, that she may devour, and at the limit destroy.

    The child confronts this oscillation between the two poles of the primitive imaginary relation in a way that one may call brutal, before the institution of the relation within its oedipal legality by the introduction of the father as subject, center of order and legitimate possession.  It is delivered to the bipolar oscillation between two irreconcilable objects, which in any case ends at a destructive result, even murderous.  That is what one finds at the bottom of amorous relations each time that they are aroused by the subject's life, tend to be roughed out, and attempt to order themselves.  Within a certain path of understanding analysis which is clearly the modern path, and which on this point is not without recalling my own road, it is there that the analyst intervenes to let the subject glimpse the alternation of his positions as well as their significance.  One may say that, in a certain way, the analyst introduces the necessary symbolic distance so that the subject may perceive the sense of it.

    Observations here are extremely rich and fruitful when they show us for example the thousand forms which within the actuality of the precocious life of the subject the fundamental uncoupling may take which delivers the subject to the imaginary relation whether by the path of identification with the woman or whether with the place taken by the imaginary phallus, which is to say, in any case, within an insufficient symbolization of the third relation.  Authors note very frequently the sometimes repeated absence of the father in the story of the subject, the deficiency, as one says, of the father as presence--he goes on a trip, to war, etc..

    Moreover, a certain type of subjective position is noted, sometimes singularly reproduced in fantasms, that of a forced immobilization.  It is sometimes manifested by a binding or tying of the subject having really taken place, of which Sylvia Payne gives a very good example.  In following an extreme medical prescription, a child had been prevented from walking up to the age of two, bonds effectively keeping him in his bed.  This was not without some consequences.  The fact that he lived thus strictly observed in his parents bedroom put him in the exemplary position of being entirely delivered to a purely visual relation, without any trace of muscular reaction coming from him.  His relation to his parents was assumed within the kind of rage and anger which you can imagine.  If such exemplary cases are rare, some authors have insisted on the fact that the phobia of some mothers who keep their child at a distance almost as if being a source of infection is certainly not without importance in the prevalence given to the visual relation in the constitution of the primitive relation to the maternal object.  

Much more instructive than some example of the corruption of the primary relation, is the pathological relation which presents itself as the inverse, or the complement, of the libidinal adherence to the fetish. Fetishism is effectively a class which nosologically englobes all sorts of phenomena whose affinity or kinship with fetishism is indicated in some way by our intuition.

    That some subject of whom Mrs. Payne speaks should be attached to a raincoat appears of the same nature as if he were attached to shoes.   We are not wrong in thinking so.  Structurally speaking however, the raincoat contains in itself the relations and indicates a position a little different from those which the shoe or the corset involve.   These objects are themselves, directly, in the position of veil between the subject and the object.  It is not the same for the raincoat, not other kinds of fetishes involving more or less enveloping clothing.  It is necessary moreover to give its place to the special quality that rubber involves.  This quality, very frequently encountered, does not fail to harbor some last mystery, that would be undoubtedly clarified psychologically by the sensory character which the special contact with rubber itself contains.  Perhaps there is here something which may, more easily that with something else, be taken as the doubling of the skin, or again which involves special capacities for isolation.  Whatever may be the very structure of relations such as they are delivered within certain centers where analytic observation is made, one sees that the raincoat plays there a role which is not exactly the same as that of the veil.  It is rather something behind which the subject is centered.  He situates himself, not before the veil, but behind, which it to say in the place of the mother, adhering to a position of identification where the latter has need of being protected, here through envelopment.  

This is what gives us the transition between cases of fetishism and cases of transvestism. The envelopment is not of the order of the veil but of protection. It is a matter of a shield, by which the subject identified with the feminine personage envelops himself.

Another typical relation, sometimes particularly exemplary, is the explosion of an exhibitionism in certain truly reactional cases, indeed sometimes alternating with fetishism. This may always be observed when the subject is forced to come out of his labyrinth because of some coming into play of the real which places him in a position of unstable equilibrium where a crystallization or reversal of his position is produced. This is very clearly illustrated by the schema of the freudian case of feminine homosexuality, where the introduction of the father as real element makes the terms be interchanged, in such a way that what was situated in the beyond, the symbolic father, comes to be caught within the imaginary relation, while the subject takes a demonstrative homosexual position in relation to the father.

    We likewise have the very pretty case where one sees the subject, inasmuch as he has tried to gain access to a complete relation within certain conditions of artificial realization of forcing of the real, express by his acting-out, which is to say on the imaginary plane, what was symbolically latent in the situation.  We have an example of it with the subject who attempts for the first time a real relation with a woman, but who is engaged within that position of experience where he goes there to show what he is capable of doing.  He is more or less successful thanks to the help of the woman, but in the hour which follows, and while nothing up to the present would have permitted one to anticipate the possibility of such symptoms in him, he delivers himself to a very singular and well calculated exhibition, which consists in exposing himself to a passing international train, with the result that no one can catch him with his hand in the bag.  The subject was here forced to give expression to something which was implicit in his position.  His exhibitionism is only the expression or the projection on the imaginary plane of something whose symbolic resonances he has not himself understood, to wit that the act that he had just made was finally only that of attempting to demonstrate--to demonstrate that he was capable like another of having a normal relation.

We find at several repetitions this sort of reactional exhibitionism within observations which are very close to fetishism, or even which are clearly fetishism. It is a matter, one feels it well, of delinquent acts which are the equivalent of fetishism. Melitta Schmideberg presents us for example a man who had married a woman very nearly twice as tall as him, veritable ménage à la Dubout, where he played the role of ubuesque victim, of grievous sufferer. One fine day, this man, who did his best in the horrible situation, was advised that he was to become a father. He rushed into a public garden and began to expose himself to a group of young girls.

Mrs. Schmideberg, who here seems a little too anna-freudian, finds all kinds of analogies with the fact that the boy's father was already not a little victim of his wife, and that he had succeeded in freeing himself from the situation in having himself surprised with a maid one day, which, by means of jealous retribution had put his spouse a little at his mercy. That explains nothing. Mrs. Schmideberg misses the main thing. She believes she has analyzed a perversion by having made a short analysis. There is no need to marvel at it, for it is not a matter of perversion at all, and she has not given an analysis at all. She left out the fact that it is through an act of exhibition that the subject had manifested himself on this occasion. There is no other way of explaining this act than of referring oneself to this mechanism of release by which what, within the real, comes there as addition, symbolically inassimilable, tends to precipitate what is at the bottom of the symbolic relation, that is the phallus-child equivalence.

Failing the capacity to assume in any way this paternity, failing even to believe it, this brave man went to a good place to show the equivalent of the child, that is what remained to him then of the usage of his phallus.

                   January 30 1957