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These notes and articles are a supplement to the Lacan file.

If you have questions about this file, feel free to contact Jonathan Gingerich at

Lacan Critique

Thesis: There are different subject positions in which certain things are possible while other
things are at the same time impossible. Furthermore, different positions cannot fully understand
one another, because the possibility of understanding is conditioned by the positions.
Tangentially, it is for this reason that forgiveness is the ultimate ethical act, because it is only by
participating in the shared medium of language that it is possible to move towards inter-
subjective understanding. Additionally, certain subject positions are superior to certain other
subject positions. This criticism will do the following: describe two separate subject positions,
argue that the affirmative exemplifies the first position, present an alternative, argue that the
alternative exemplifies the second position, and argue that the second position is superior to the

A. Framework and Links:

A description of the masculine and feminine sexual positions
Trying to solve problems is an instance of the masculine sexual position

B. Impacts:
The masculine sexual position inevitably fails and forecloses feminine jouissance

C. Alternative:
The feminine sexual position entails an acceptance of lack
It is possible to arrive at the feminine sexual position through psychoanalysis.

These are notes on Lacans theory of sexual difference from a class on Philosophy and
Psychoanalysis taught in Spring 2005 at Georgetown University, Washington, DC by Wilfried
Ver Eecke, who studied with Jacques Lacan and Alphonse De Waelhens.

PHIL 401 Lacan Notes Consolidated

PHIL 401 April 7, 2005

Lacans theory of human development as a preliminary for the articles on Lacan and sexual
difference. The Lacanian theory is psychoanalytic. It goes back to the earliest position in life.
That discovery is quite acceptable to phenomenology. Phenomenology discovered and stresses
that we create our world. Something happens, an optimist interprets as a possibility, a pessimist
interprets as a disaster. The world is constructed by our interpretations.
Intentionality as the crucial concept by which they analyze our own contribution to the
experience of the world. Now, phenomenology accepts that we have the experience of continuity
in our lives. You expect your parents, your friends to react today in similar ways as yesterday.
Even if there is change, it is gradual and occurs in the context of continuity. If anything is true in
that philosophical position, then the psychoanalytic discovery (strange behavior, hallucinations,
symptoms) must be in continuity with the whole life history. That view, that is typical for
Husserl, lacks one basic idea that is very present in Hegel: there are shifts in positions possible
whereby you construct the world intentionally differently. For instance: the transitions from
master to slave, slave to stoic, stoic to skeptic, skeptic to unhappy consciousness. Some radical
restructuring of the view of the world and of your own intentionalities is possible, even if it
happens slowly. In your youth you may be a skeptic and you may later on become an unhappy
consciousness. Culture understands that there are occasions for radical shifts (mid-life crises).
Husserls phenomenology on one hand, Hegels phenomenology of spirit on the other. Hegel
emphasizes the possibility of radical shifts, Husserl of continuity. When Freud talked to his
patients, many of them hysterics, he discovered that they were unable to deal with a problem that
required some form of adjustment. That problem he slowly developed and articulated by his
own self analysis after his own father died as the oedipal complex. You have a lifespan, but
between 3 and 6, you are invited to make a radical shift, and if that radical shift is not made
properly, then you have mental illnesses resulting in symptoms. After Freud, Klein started to
treat children and she discovered that the pre-three period is home to much psychic activity,
which she analyzed. Her followers were able to make her theories more acceptable and complete
these are object-relation theoreticians. For those, the relation between mother and child is
crucial for the development of the human being (e.g. Winnicott: good enough mother).
Psychologists began to observe. Children between 3 and 6 whose father had been gone for 6
months were unwilling to accept 2 candies one week later instead of 1 now, while children
whose father was present were more likely to accept. The first group also did less well in
mathematics and were less capable of recalling the exact date of the national revolution in their
country. Also, attachment theory confirms much of the object relation theory of the great
importance of the secure attachment to the maternal figure. Prepare for Lacans theory of
difference between the sexes.
The first step is the idea that very early on the child is not living, not facing the world by itself.
It faces the world as a unit (mother-child). When I ask children between 5 and 7, what is your
favorite book to read, the child invariably looks to the mother. Mother does one of three things:
answer for the child, tell the child what answer to provide, or tell the child to provide an answer.
With the permission of the mother, children are willing to face the world. When the mother says,
Its ok, its Professor Ver Eecke, the child begins to giggle. The children are initially
completely dependent on the otherthey cannot even survive without the mother. However,
they very early on become consciousnesses, and a conscious being cannot tolerate dependence.
What would you do or feel if you are in an accident and are completely paralyzed? Even though
dependence is unacceptable, there is nothing realistic to do about that dependence. If there is
nothing realistic that we can do, we human beings have a supreme weapon: fantasy
life/imagination. When my boy was young, I repaired a step in my house. He told his friends
my dad repaired that step. My dad can do everything. A couple of years later, we were in
Germany and I didnt have my tools. I had to ask a friend to help me repair something. My
child still reminds me of this failure. Children are threatened by the failure of the parents
omnipotence. Children believe that the mother can do everything and imagine that they are
everything that the mother could want. The newspaper story about German families not having
children. The fantasy of the child being everything to the mother and the mother being
omnipotent overlap: jointly, you and me are everything. Winnicott argues that the overlapping of
those two fantasies is necessary. Very difficult to imagine that children just move their lips when
they are given a pacifier. I postulate that they fantasize. He argues that for a good development,
when it becomes hungry, the child fantasizes the solutionit fantasizes the breast that feeds it.
Most of the time, the mother provides the breast when the child fantasizes it. A good enough
mother does not leave the child crying for days on end; it provides the breast about when the
child fantasizes it. Hence, the sense of self depends on the hallucination of something like the
coordination of the fantasy of the child and the willingness of the mother to help. The child
doesnt learn that the mother is a person separate from itself. The child thinks that it does

everything for itself and does not need the outside world. Hence, it is vitally important that the
mother not be perfect and that from time to time there is a period of disappointment so that the
child is able to begin seeing the mother/the breast as independent of its own fantasy. Now, Lacan
goes one step further and argues that the child is dependent on the mother for one more step: the
creation of the psychic body. Originally, there is of course the organic body. There is also the
psychic experience of the organic body. This experience is originally the experience of a part
object. The child becomes psychically aware of its mouth and it puts anything it finds in its
mouth. We can also surmise that it becomes aware of its stomach because it becomes hungry and
it becomes aware of its bottom. Around 6 to 8 months, when you put the children in front of the
mirror, they not only smile but show gestures of jubilation. The Lacanian question is: why so
much joy in front of the mirror. The excitement, for Lacan, is that it sees itself as a unit. This is
different from the chimpanzee, who is not excited by its own image. Children also look to the
eye of the mother which is proud of it discovering itself. Thus, children realize that they are
lovable and it is as a whole unit that they are lovable. With this whole unit, narcissism becomes
possible. What about societies without mirrors? The child is capable of discovering the unity of
its body in the unity of its caretaker the mother. The child accepts and loves their own body by
means of love of the mother for itself. The childs psychic construction of the body is necessary
for the organic body to survive (e.g. high percentages of orphans die). It allows for the growth of
muscles, the concentration of the eyes, and presumably the mobilization of the immune system.
The next very important step is the no say. Around 15 months, these children can crawl and walk
and put themselves into all sorts of danger. Once the children begin to walk, the parents have to
start saying no. The children are at first frustrated, but after a while they return the favor and
begin saying no to the mother more often than to anyone else. The no of the child clearly
doesnt mean that it doesnt want a piece of cake. What is the no? It is a no to the whole
situation. Mom, if you think you know what I want, you are wrong, I want what you dont want,
and I want to give up what I want if you think I want it. There is then an act of reparation as the
child takes the hand of the mother and kisses it. In the broader context, the child is able to move
away from the mother. The mother walks into another room, the child cries, and the mother is
not there immediately. Hence, there is a distance. Hence, the child must feel a threat either to
the belief that the mother is omnipotent or to the belief I am everything to my mother. With
reference to the omnipotence of the mother, this is very difficult to give up for children. We do
not allow our friends to make the criticisms of our parents that we make internally. Anything
that twists the first fantasy is a deep threat to the self. The child must then start to doubt I am
everything to the mother. Suppose that your significant other separates, does not return the
calls. Is it possible that you say: maybe he doesnt like me anymore, maybe I am not lovable.
However, I remember that he said he liked a blue dress. Let me try that! Let us apply that to
the child. The child is not certain that it is lovable; therefore it will look to what it thinks the
mother wants. Therefore, it will transform itself into whatever it thinks the mother wants. If in
one family the mother likes nothing better than an active child and in another the mother likes
well dressed children, that will shape how the child behaves. When the child doubts its
lovability, the childs solution is to transform itself into what it thinks the mother wants. Lacan
calls this self-alienation, Winnicott calls this a false self. Now, we have already a couple of
things that are dangerous for future life. People who develop a strategy to do what pleases others
even if it is not want will ultimately commit suicide because they are completely self-alienated.
How is it that most of us outgrow the position that the child takes. Well, the object relations
theoreticians, esp. Winnicott, have no satisfactory answer, but their answer is that the child
becomes aggressive against the mother and the child must tolerate it, so that the child learns that
its agressivity is not successful. Psycologists have realized that there is more agressivity in
children of single mothers. Lacan argues that there is another thing that helps the child escape
this position. It is when a third arrives in the mother-child dyad. If the child differentiates

between the mother and the father, it starts to realize that the mother and the father have a
relation. When the child observes that the mother has a relation with the father, the child
receives two messages: 1, the mother is not omnipotent, because she wants things from the
father, 2, I am not everything. This we could call the narcissistic wound. We can observe that
receiving 2 messages that destroy everything that was necessary for security, the messages
cannot be accepted. The child tries first to destroy the message. The mother picked up her child
around noon, father was a banker, mother tells child to get father for lunch. Child goes halfway
up stairs and calls for father, comes back down, tells mother that father doesnt want to come,
five minutes later, the father comes down and they go to lunch. One day, the mother cant pick
up the child, the father comes instead, the child doesnt want to go at first, but the father says, I
am here, you have to come. A week later at lunch, the child says at lunch, I want to become a
banker. Children are fairly resilient: they try to pick out what it is in the third figure (father) that
is attractive to the mother. Then children identify with the mark, and the mark becomes the
direction of desire for the rest of their life. Girls have one more problem, they have to return to
the mother. But let us point out some important things. The mother child relation is the
imaginary, the triangular relation introduces the symbolic. The child thinks of itself as an ideal
ego, and the predominant dimension of time is now. In the symbolic position, the child creates
an ego idealI want to be a banker like my dad. The child understands that the ego ideal is
something it is not yet. Hence, the ego ideal introduces finitude, as opposed to ideal ego, which
is limitless. Given that the child wants to be like the father and isnt like the father, the child is
wiling to work and is willing to have patience. The most important dimension of time becomes
the future. The move from the mother to the mark of the third is a move away from the closeness
to the mother, and the law of incest prohibition is accepted, hence the basis of the acceptance of
all law. Then the introduction of metaphor and metonymy. That child who wanted to become a
banker said three weeks later I want to become a fire fighter and a moth later I want to me a
football player in a metonymic way. Metaphor, to be psychologically different and the same is
metaphor. The father is a psychological move, that is, the psychological basis for a metaphor.
Without that metaphoric move, it is impossible to understand metaphorical language. The child
makes the metaphoric move and accepts the metaphoric problematic. At the same time the
narcissistic wound comes, the children begin to discover and see sexual difference.

Jonathan will do the first half of the Freiberger article.

PHIL 401 April 12, 2005

Compared to other beings, the newborn is helpless while in other species the newborn crawls up
by itself and searches for food. It is sometimes said that children are born too early before
theyre fully intellectually developed. The human being is completely dependent, and as an
emergent consciousness, that is not acceptable, but nothing can be done. Humans have the
weapon of imagination. There are two fantasies. Without the mothers support in sustaining
these fantasies, the child is in trouble. Several reactions: the belief that the mother is responsible
for problems, like schizophrenia: the schizophrenogenic mother. The response is to hold that the
cause is purely biological. Psychoanalysis goes further and holds that there are multiple reasons
for schizophrenia. Children must have a secure attachment to the mother, and this connection
can be broken in a variety of ways. I defend a dual theory of biological predisposition and
environmental factors. The child must be capable of creating these two illusions. The
phenomenon that attachment to the mother is crucial does not make the mother guilty for its
failure. This is important because it makes therapy very difficult if there are accusations. The
father intervenesthe father may be dead, so its called the name of the father.

M M F (name of
the father)
The Mark

Here, the child feels like Here, the child Here, the child regains
a billion; its all that feels worthless, some of the lost sense of
matters to the mother. as it has lost the unity and feels like at least
This is Subjective attention of the million. This is subjective
position #1. mother. position #2.

The child is resilient and the child tries to figure out what it is that makes the mother interested in
the father (a mark) and attempts to itself acquire the mark in order to return itself to the center of
the mothers attention.
That mark becomes the object of desire for the rest of ones life, and by pursing that, one has the
sense of doing something very important.
The move from S1 to S2 is a metaphorical move. Metaphors are curious, because if I call you a
chicken, Im not saying you have a beak and wings. I am confirming that you are not something
by saying that you are that thing. The first subjective position is: I am here, I am the baby his
majesty. You are here to do everything for me. In the second position, dad says lets make
waffles, and the child says can I help? The same child is in position one and two, but in the
second position has become willing to work to become something. Hence, the move is
metaphorical, as the child becomes a different child while remaining the same failure. This
move is necessary for the understanding of metaphor and hence for the acquisition of language.
We do not mean what we say, but we say what we have to say, and you better understand what
we mean.
We need to introduce sexuality because it is part of the development. It is introduced by
claiming that the development is the same for the boy and the girl up to the period of S2. While
for the boy, the voyage ends with the mark of the father, the girl has to return to the mother.
Daughters can get stuck in a couple of ways. The first is if the father has affairs and the girl
knows. This makes it seem that the mother is not respected by the father, so to return to the
position of the mother would be a form of degradation. That was in Freuds first study of Anna
O. The second figure was Dora. The second reason for the girl getting stuck is totally different:
the father is sickly. If the father is sickly, the father appeals to deep emotions of the girl to take
care of him, and hence there is a form of incestuous identification with the father which makes it
impossible for the girl to move on. In both cases, the father isnt fulfilling the role of paternal
figure. By the end of S2, sexuality must be psychologically incorporated or the boy wouldnt
know that he needs to stay there and the girl wouldnt know that she needs to go on. Roughly at
the same time that children become sensitive to the seeing of the sexual difference. By seeing
that the mother has an interest in a third figure, the child is dislodged from its throne. (I am not
everything.) Now the child discovers sexual difference and thereby discovers that it cannot be
everything at the same timefinitude is inscribed in its own body. As a consequence, children
must express their transition from S1 to S2.
Merleau-Ponty was a very great philosopher who stressed the importance of experience as
opposed to theory. Bodily experience is at the basis of even the most abstract theory. One
example that he gives is computer language. We use 0 and 1, hence a base of 8 (2^3). 8 has a
connection with the real world, base 10 is because we are human beings with 10 fingers. Hence,
he argues that the narcissistic wound which Freud originally called castration (I am not
everything) will be represented bodily. Here we come to one of the great scandals of

psychoanalysis: the male has an external sexual organ, the female has an internal one; guess
which one is represented? The boy recognizes that he has the organ and the girl does not, hence,
it can be taken away. The girl recognizes that she does not have the organ and envies it. The girl
has a body that accepts lack: if you lack something, you try to get something in return. The little
girl becomes very pleasing, and little girls develop much faster language.
For Freud, something dramatic happened between 3 and 6, but he wasnt able to formulate it as
narcissistic wound. When he tried to pinpoint it down, he pinpointed the trauma to the seeing of
the little child of the presence or absence of the penis. Later, Freud argued that things are a step
more complicated. Around 3 to 6, it was not a matter of the children discovering procreating.
So, he changed the name of the period from the Genital period to the Oedipal period. Between 3
and 4, sexual difference is understood as being based on the presence or absence of the phallus.
The penis is the organ, the phallus is the signifier of procreative power. Signified around the
signified/phallus, and culture is organized around the male conception of reproduction. Hence,
culture is phallocentric. In western culture, the linguistic basis for human development lacks the
capability of signifying femininity, so femininity is symbolically un-understandable. Freud was
unable to answer the question what do women want honestly. In ancient Greece, women not
only took care of living family members but of dead family members as well. Men had the
realm of politics, which follows speech, and hence is universal. Taking care of family members
is taking care of the particular. If a man finds something particular of interest in a women, he
can satisfy his interest in the particular and combine it with the universal. The woman has had
too much of the particular, so she wants a universal, that is, a man. When they meet, they expect
something completely different from one another. The support of the fantasy, Lacan calls objet a.
The child must create a sense of safety and it does that by imagination. That imagination must
be supported: initially, the support is the breast/the nipple of the mother. The support comes not
from the whole other but from a part of the other, hence, small other. The male looks for objet
petit a in the girl: some part that will satisfy the fantasy I am everything. The girl, who has
accepted that she lacks something, will fall in love with a little bad boy in the hope that she can
help him. So, the psychological reasons for love are quite different. The boy kisses the girl
because he hopes to be admired, the girl kisses the boy because she hopes that she can help him.
Therefore, the meeting of the minds is an illusion, and there is no relation between the sexes. I
don not like this for dialectical reasons. I would rephrase it to say: the meeting of the sexes is
psychologically a challenge, because the two sexes have very different ideas when they meet
each other, and without serious work, that can be disillusionment. But, I would hope that the
work can lead to constructive relationships, because people can live together without killing one

PHIL 401 April 14, 2005

Both sexes like in girls: cleverness in dealing with caring for people, kindness, dislike gossipy,
catty. They like that girls are compassionate, a male indicates that they like girls for their beauty,
dislike them for their pettiness. They dislike the lacking of opinions or initiative. They dislike
the bitchiness or the talking too much.
In the boys, they like cleverness in regard to impressing people, while disliking their arrogance
(unfounded arrogance), and they dislike in boys unfaithfulness and vulgarity, dislike anger, like
honesty (which doesnt come up as a characteristic that is liked in girls).
The question is: how are those two plus signs conceptualized in everyday life. Here, the
psychoanalytic literature based on the fantasy life of mentally ill patients and projected back into
the life of the children is not the womb but the phallus. If it was the womb, then it would have
been a feminine basis for the whole thing. Now that it is the phallus, it is the male basis for all of
development. The matriarchal conception of the development of human being is 15 breasts
based on a representation of human procreative power. Lacan argues that women escape

partially the socialization structures and thus are capable of doing something that men are not
capable of doing. Nobody puts caring as a characteristic for admiring boys. What is it about
caring that is so special for girls and mothers while we understand the machoness of the male
side? Machoness is the belief that they have phallic power, but it is threatened, so they have to
exaggerate their own capabilities in order to mask their vulnerabilities. We will begin with the
Dylan Evans article.

Freud speaks only of anatomical difference while Lacan speaks of the differentiation of the
sexes. Freud thought that the seeing of the anatomical difference was crucial, Lacan says that
that is not the casethe main problem that both the boy and girl are facing around age 3 is the
narcissistic wound. With reference to the narcissistic wound, you can have two attitudes: thus,
the male can take up a feminine position and the female can take up a feminine position, but
statistically, more males take a feminine position and females can take a masculine position.
Illustration: at tomboy, butches. Clearly, the Freudian theory observed that you can have women
that behave like men and vice versa, but the Freudian theory couldnt explain that very well. The
difficulty with the Lacanian position is that Lacan makes the masculine and the feminine merely
positions with reference to the narcissistic wound, so he is left with the question: why do
anatomical males tend to take the masculine position while anatomical females tend to take the
feminine position? The narcissistic wound is my interpretation of the whole development. This
is what Freud calls castration and Lacan describes as the threat of not having a phallus. There is
a more empiricist feeling of the Freudian theory, while Lacan is more purely logical, but both
must try to explain reality. It is a mistake to read Lacan as an empirical theory: it simply says,
there is a great challenge for human beings, nobody wants to go through it, but they must, and
there are two positions. One accepts this challenge (of the narcissistic wound: in Freud, you
have or dont have the penis, in Lacan, you have or dont have the phallus) and the other refuses
the challenge. Both boy and girl confront in Lacanian terms that they are not everything for the
mother. They are therefore dethroned. Understood within the context of embodied persons, that
has something to do with procreation and anatomical difference. For Lacan, it is the
displacement symbolized by the concept of phallus.
For both Freud and Lacan, the child is at first ignorant of sexual difference, and so cannot take
on a sexual position. Not only do they not know about sexual difference, they do not have the
psychic attitude whereby that would make sense. From the standpoint I am everything that that
mother could want, the idea of a boy and a girl makes no sense: if I am everything, I cannot
incorporate the idea of boy and girl, because acknowledging sexual difference would mean I am
not everything. People who have not given up that original narcissistic conception of the self
must necessarily have difficulties with their own sexuality and thus have difficulties with sexual
relations. They cant empathize with others; even worse, they have the narcissistic wound in
their own sexuality.
Around age 3, 2 things happen: becoming aware of sexual difference and the acceptance of the
fact that you arent everything for the mother. Freud and Lacan see this process as closely
connected to the oedipal complex but disagree on the precise formulation of the process. These
two things emerge at roughly the same time in S2. Children take great joy in consoling the
mother that they can take the fathers place. The masculine position is to love the mother
passionately and the feminine position is to passionately love the father, for Freud. For Lacan,
the Oedipal situation imposes on you a narcissistic wound, and the question that you must
address is what you are going to do with the narcissistic wound. All representation is based on
the body, and the narcissistic wound is the experience of loss. That can be represented by sexual
difference which is discovered at the time. The woman has a body that invites her to accept that
there is something that she doesnt have. The boy has a body that invites him to think that he has

something, and therefore to refuse the narcissistic wound. The boy will go in the direction of
macho exhibitionism. The girl, having accepted the narcissistic wound, accepts that all human
beings are wounded (because they all have the narcissistic wound). What will the feminine
position lead to? Caring. Second, a greater sophistication with selling herself. The girls are
beautiful and neat, and the boys are messy. The capitalistic system knows this very well: they
make money in the limitless provision of beautifying the body of the woman. If a woman takes a
masculine a position, what will be the immediate visual consequenceshow will she present in
the world? As rough around the edges. Will she be as interested in make up? The feminine
position, according to Lacan, is the knowledge that everybody has a narcissistic wound in
conceptualization and is castrated. The position has accepted the law of the phallus: I do not
have the phallus, because otherwise I would be everything for the mother. Instead, I discover
that the phallus is not in my mother, not in me, but elsewhere.
Objet petit a. The man does not relate to the entirety of the other, but a part of the other that
imaginarily completely satisfies you. For instance, breasts can be an objet petit a. A woman on a
plane told me: I went to the gym at 6 in the morning and I heard the gym instructors voice and I
knew he was the one, and I married him. In this situation, the voice was the objet petit a. As the
subject matures, the assessment hopefully becomes more holistic. Given the macho insecurity of
the male, they are more interested in objet petit a in females while females are more interested in
taking the role of caring in order to be omnipotently important for the one who needs care.
Hopefully you work yourself to a more mature relationship to your significant other. How would
you symbolize abstractly the masculine and feminine position? The masculine position pretends
not to have lost the phallus but is afraid of losing it, the feminine position accepts the loss of the
phallus. There is only one concept: the presence or absence of the phallus. Hence, there is a
radical asymmetry in the conception of masculinity and femininity: both are defined with
reference to a masculine characteristic.
Freud was fascinated with: what is it that women want?
The biggest problem is the narcissistic wound. The question is how children put together sexual
difference with the narcissistic wound. Goes on to explain that females need to take a second
step. The girl has to make an additional move: the recognition that you need an additional move
must come before you are at the end.
Coming out of the evolutionary position, there is a male that is not subject to the phallic law: he
possesses all of the woman, he is omnipotent.
The 3rd formula: we know of no primordial horde in which a female expelled other females. This
also refers to Freuds study Totem and Taboo, which makes use of the idea of a horde with one
male being unrestricted. 2nd line, left side: all x are subject to the phallic function. All males are
subject to the law of the narcissistic wound. Here comes the perversion of Lacan. In normal
logic, inverted A means all, but if you are picky, all x can have 2 meanings one is that all males
(1, 2, 3, 4, , n) are subject to the law of castration. But the proposition can also mean: all of 1,
all of 2, all of 3, , all of n is subject to castration. Males must accept the law of limitation in
order not to be killed: one male cannot possess all of the women. Go to the fourth proposition:
Not all of women are subject to the law of castration: here, the second meaning (all of 1, all of 2,
, all of n) predominates. They accept that they dont have the phallus and the dont attempt to
compete with other females for control of males.
The male is subject to castration but doesnt accept it, therefore he will look in the female for
something that sustains the illusion of non-castration (I am everything), and that is objet petit a.
Something that gives him the illusion that he is not subject to castration.
Boys hit on girls but girls flirt with boys. You present yourself in the extreme.
The boy needs an object a confirming that he is not narcissistic wounded, and the girl knows it,
playing the object a.

PHIL 401 April 19, 2005

The top formula for the male is the myth of the horde (the exception of the one that is not subject
to the law of the phallus) but all the children grow suspicious of each other, and they impose
limitation. For the female, the top means that there is no historical female who tries to control all
the males (there is not one that does not accept the law of castration). The last formulation is the
most widely discussed one: the law of castration is in terms of the phallus, so not everything in
the female is subject to the law of castration. The law of castration is a masculine system, so
some part of feminine possibility escapes this system. What does that mean? In the bottom side,
you have first on the left side, how does the male relate to the female? The male is subject to the
law of castration, but he doesnt like that, so he looks to the female as objet a, that is something
that can give him the illusion that he is not castrated, he is not subject to the law of castration. In
popular discourse you have the conquest of the female as a prize. The male subject to the phallic
law is a narcissistically wounded object that tries to overcome the wound by conquering the lady
to give the illusion that the wound doesnt exist. In the female, you have first the idea that La
related to S(A). The woman is subject to castration but not entirely subject to castration, so the
woman is never universal but always very particular. Hence, there can be no feminine the.
She accepts that people are wounded human beings, and you have many cases in which a young
lady can say, that boy was dumb, ugly, but he starts to reveal how lonely his is and they fall
madly in love. This is the feminine attitude by which she meets the male. The female
approaches the man as only partially under the law of the phallus and partly not under the law of
the phallus. Thus, the women get something out of the relationship of the man about which the
male dominated linguistic system has no clue. Hence, when the male and female meet, they
meet with completely different expectations. The illusion is eventually realized and lack is
Lacan examines French history: troubadours, lower level knights, chose as a female partner
someone who was unreachable, and their whole love life was an attempt to love the unreachable.
Lacan says that they understood that it was an impossible relation and they pursued it anyway.
The other is mysticism: the Catholic mystics talk about god in a way that they claim is un-
expressible in words. This is comparable to the relation to women, because the feminine cannot
be expressed in words.
What Larry Summers said. The way of experiencing most events in women and men is different.
Remainder on Freiberger article.

Mankind developed conceptions of the evil and therefore different conceptions of the divine, and
these different conceptions of divine contribute to different conceptions of ethics and duty.

Notes taken by Jonathan Gingerich.

Copyright (c) Yeshiva University 1995.
Cardozo Law Review


16 Cardozo L. Rev. 1121

LENGTH: 7503 words



NAME: Renata Salecl *


* Renata Salecl is a philosopher and sociologist, working as a researcher at the Institute of

Criminology, Faculty of Law, University of Ljubljana and as a visiting scholar at the New School
for Social Research, New York. I thank Jane Malmo for correcting my translation and giving me
many helpful comments. My thanks also to David Gray Carlson, Peter Goodrich, Jeanne
Schroeder, Marty Slaughter, Michel Rosenfeld, and Slavoj Zizek. Portions of this essay are
included in my book, The Spoils of Freedom (published in 1994).

... Instead of searching for first principles and metanorms, postmodernists analyze the
discursive form of the notion of rights and read this form as a part of the historically limited
Enlightenment project that today has lost its relevance. ... One such difference is sexual
difference, and this Essay will discuss the supposed patriarchal nature of rights from a different
perspective than feminist legal theory: my aim is to highlight the "feminine" logic, the
particularity that is implicit in the notion of human rights itself and that has to be reconsidered if
the universality of human rights is to acquire a new meaning. ... The majority of contemporary
feminist theorists oppose the notion of the cogito: the cogito, as the abstract notion of a subject,
is perceived as a patriarchal notion per se, which renders philosophy as such patriarchal.
According to this view, the notion of the cogito provides the basis for the universality of male
domination, as well as for "separation" of individuals, i.e., in the framework of the cogito the
individual is perceived as an abstract entity, separated from other individuals. ... Through his
formulas of sexuation, Lacan argues that man and woman are defined (and split) separately with
respect to the "phallic function." ... For liberals it is the individual right, and for communitarians
the group rights are perceived as progressive, as democratic in their character. ...


All major philosophical schools today take some position on the issue of human rights. On the
one hand, so-called postmodern theorists ask how we can understand the narrative of human
rights when we no longer believe that its claims are true or that meta-narratives are even
possible. Instead of searching for first principles and metanorms, postmodernists analyze the
discursive form of the notion of rights and read this form as a part of the historically limited

Enlightenment project that today has lost its relevance. Neo-Kantians, on the other hand, speak
in favor of the notion of human rights and try to give it a new philosophical foundation. Richard
Rorty's pragmatism lies between these two positions: pragmatism is in principle critical of the
notion of universal human rights, but, at the same time, it tries to preserve the institutions of legal
order that were originally established on the basis of the notion of rights. Feminist legal theory
finds the notion of human rights utterly problematic because of its patriarchal character.
Feminists, in their critique of rights, primarily object to the notion of the Cartesian subject on
which human rights are grounded. The question is, however, whether the notion of human rights
is patriarchal per se, and whether it is possible to reinterpret rights in a feminist perspective.

The problem we must address is how to think of the universality of human rights in relation to
the differences and antagonisms that traverse society. One such difference is sexual difference,
and this Essay will discuss the supposed patriarchal nature of rights from a different perspective
than feminist legal theory: my aim is to highlight the "feminine" logic, the particularity that is
implicit in the notion of human rights itself and that has to be reconsidered if the universality of
human rights is to acquire a new meaning. [*1122]

I. Reflections on Human Rights in Contemporary Philosophy

In contemporary philosophy, the relevance of the notion of human rights is proven or rejected
according to how one decides if unjust laws can be legitimately resisted. Answers to this question
differ in "Neo-Kantian" and "Foucauldian" theory. Neo-Kantians argue that it is necessary to
have some regulative principles by which people orient their behavior and judge the justness of
the law itself. For Neo-Kantians, the notion of human rights is a kind of regulative ideal that has
to be postulated as the principle of our action, although it is a principle that always remains, in
some way, unrealizable. Without the idea of human rights or of some principle of the subject's
autonomy, they argue, there is no way to judge the injustice of existing laws. n1

Foucauldians, on the contrary, resist this idea of regulative principles and argue for a
genealogical demystification of the notion of human rights which would reveal the historical
determination of the notion itself. To summarize the position of the Foucauldians: in resisting
unjust laws, there is no need to appeal to some universal idea of human rights because it is
unproductive to judge power relations in terms that are part of the relations of power. Law is also
always linked to the mechanisms of power; therefore, it is not in position to judge power.
Foucault did not perceive law as a model or code, thus he resisted the notion of human rights as
well as the valorization of the state run in accord with the rule of law. When the state claims that
it is a democratic state governed according to the rule of law, for Foucault, this is only a
sacralization of law as part of a strategy or process of domination, n2 just as human rights are
invoked to justify a strategy of power in a specific legal-discursive game. The subject becomes
part of this game when it articulates its relation to power in the apparently neutral language of
fundamental rights and freedoms. Foucault's colleague Francois Ewald goes even further,
arguing that law as such does not exist; there are only laws and legal practices. n3 For Ewald as
for Foucault, law is always historically determined; therefore they reject references to any
universal norms or rights and argue for genealogical critique of normative praxis. [*1123]

The Neo-Kantian objection to Foucault is that, by drowning law in history, he loses the means to
judge illegitimate legal praxis. For Neo-Kantians, only a reference to natural law (or universal
human rights) enables us to critically evaluate different historical examples of law. To judge the
effectiveness of laws, therefore, we must have some ahistorical or extrapolitical regulative idea.
This critical role pertains to the law itself, as long as law is always distinct from the facts it
judges. If law is perceived only as a historically determined discursive praxis, this split between
facts and values is lost. For Neo-Kantians, in this case, law would lose all of its meaning.

The relevance of Kantian philosophy for understanding the notion of human rights can be shown
on another level. The Kantian notion of the abstract, empty subject can be used to establish the
theoretical basis for democracy. The essence of democracy is that it can never be made to the
measure of concrete human beings; the basis of democracy is the subject as a pure empty place.
Democracy is always only a formal link between abstract subjects. As soon as we try to fill it out
with concrete, "human" content, we risk falling into totalitarianism. And the same goes for
human rights: as an answer to the question, "Who is the subject of human rights?", we can only
say that here, too, we find the empty subject, the cogito.

Marx's critique of the notion of human rights centered on precisely this abstract character of its
bearer, the abstract subject which lies at the core of the idea of human rights. Marx saw the
notion of human rights as a product of bourgeois ideology that, by establishing the abstract
categories of human equality and freedom, tried to mask existing relations of domination in
capitalist society and the actual inequality and "unfreedom" of concrete individuals. But as
Claude Lefort argues in his critique of Marx, n4 the very opposite is true: human rights are one
of the essential elements of democracy precisely because they are grounded on the idea of the
abstract individual. The contribution of human rights to democracy lies in the fact that human
rights can never be totally defined, that their character cannot be determined in full, and that they
cannot be enumerated. Thus society needs to continually invent new rights. For Lefort, the very
fact that it is impossible to determine the character of the bearer of human rights is what gives
the idea of rights its critical potential: "The rights of man reduce right to a basis which, despite
its name, is without shape, is given as [*1124] interior to itself and, for this reason, eludes all
power which would claim to take hold of it - whether religious or mythical, monarchical or
popular." n5 As a result, for Lefort, such rights extend beyond any formulation imposed on them.
In fact, "their formulation contains the demand for their reformulation" - nor are acquired rights
"necessarily called upon to support new rights." n6 Thus Lefort concludes, rights "cannot be
assigned to a particular period, as if their meaning were exhausted by the historical function they
were called upon to fulfill in the service of the rising bourgeoisie, and they cannot be
circumscribed within society, as if their effects could be localized and controlled." n7

Lefort strongly opposes theorists who perceive the notion of human rights as some kind of relic
from the past, long stripped of its significance. He stresses that human rights, because of their
abstract character and indefinability, cannot be situated in a specific historical era. This means
that they cannot be genealogically analyzed, as Foucauldians would like, nor can their effects be
measured or controlled. The concept of human rights therefore retains its potential to critique
actual historical circumstances as long as it remains an empty, universal idea. Thus, while it is a
mistake to place the idea of human rights in a specific historical context (as historicists try to do),
it is also useless to search for some intrinsic human nature at the core of the idea of human rights
(as natural rights theorists try to do). Marxists and Foucauldians make a similar mistake in
rejecting the notion of human rights. When Marxists perceive human rights as an abstract idea
masking real social antagonisms, and when Foucauldians consider human rights as a historically
determined discursive praxis entrapped in the game of power, both camps miss the point that the

abstract idea of human rights establishes the locus within which a split between law and power
first arises. Human rights mark the point at which the all-encompassing power of political
institutions is suddenly negated.

One can respond in the same way to the thesis of Critical Legal Studies ("CLS"), according to
which the advocacy of abstract human rights does not help change concrete relations of
domination in society or reduce the gap between rich and poor. n8 CLS the- [*1125] orists do
not recognize that it was only by virtue of the notion of abstract human rights that people first
acquired the means to assess social injustice: this abstract idea first enabled people to articulate
social differences in the language of law. When CLS theorists argue that society is in principle
unjust and that we have to change it - instead of simply legitimating the state by speaking about
human rights - they fall into the same trap into which the advocates of Communism have fallen.
Communist legal theorists argue that their Communist system is in principle the most just system
in the world - thus they do not need the bourgeois idea of human rights, all they have to do is to
realize Communist ideals in everyday life. n9 Thus CLS theorists and the Communists say the
same thing in different words: we have to counter abstraction by fighting for concrete changes,
or in a vulgar jargon - we have to get to work [*1126] instead of theorizing. But both theories,
by rejecting the abstract idea of human rights, negate the inner logic of democracy. Thus Lefort
argues that, modern democracy is founded upon,

the legitimacy of a debate as to what is legitimate and what is illegitimate - a debate which is
necessarily without any guarantor and without any end. The inspiration behind both the rights of
man and the spread of rights in our day bears witness to that debate.


The singular thing about the freedoms proclaimed at the end of the eighteenth century is that they
are in effect indissociable from the birth of the democratic debate. Indeed, they generate it. We
therefore have to accept that whenever these freedoms are undermined, the entire democratic
edifice is threatened with collapse, and that, where they do not exist, we look in vain for the
slightest trace of it. n10

II. Feminism and Human Rights

Feminist legal theory finds the notion of human rights utterly problematic because of its
patriarchal character. For the majority of feminist theorists, two objections immediately arise
over the notion of human rights: first, the abstract character of the notion itself, and second, the
individualism on which this notion is based. Responding to the first objection, Frances Olsen,
n11 for example, writes that the discourse of rights cannot solve social conflicts but can only
serve to reformulate them in an abstract, final form. In her opinion, the discourse of rights allows
us to see sexuality only in terms of social control and sexual freedom: the discourse of rights
defines sexual freedom and thus indirectly allows new forms of sexual violence. In terms of the

second objection, Carol Gilligan argues that women, because they tend to reason in a different
voice, are less likely than men to privilege individual, abstract rights over concrete relationships
and are more attentive to values of care, connection, and community. n12 In summarizing
feminist critiques of human rights, one could say: human rights are actually men's rights, and the
state uses them as a means to control sexuality. Furthermore, human rights represent individuals
as utterly [*1127] separate - one from another - while masking concrete relationships of
domination, and particularly, patriarchal domination. From the perspective of the majority of
feminist legal theorists, human rights reflect a male viewpoint characterized by objectivity,
distance, and abstraction, or as Catherine MacKinnon puts it: "Abstract rights will authorize the
male experience of the world." n13

Feminist legal theory locates the main reason for the patriarchal character of human rights in the
theoretical premises of liberalism. In particular, Robin West's reproach to modern American legal
theorists insists that all of them, regardless of their liberal or critical (Marxist) backgrounds,
explicitly or implicitly embrace the "separation thesis" about what it means to be a "human
being." The "separation thesis" claims that the "distinction between you and me is central to the
meaning of the phrase "human being' " and that individuals are " "distinct and not essentially
connected with one another.' " n14 Problematically, separation is perceived not only as physical
separation, but also as an epistemological and moral precondition of any possible cooperation
between human beings; such separation is also held to be necessary for the origin of law. West
rejects this position because, in her opinion, the "separation thesis" may be "trivially true" for
men, but is patently untrue of women:

Women are not essentially, necessarily, inevitably, invariably, always, and forever separate from
other human beings: women, distinctively, are quite clearly "connected" to another human life
when pregnant... Indeed, perhaps the central insight of feminist theory of the last decade has
been that women are "essentially connected," not "essentially separate," from the rest of human
life, both materially, through pregnancy, intercourse, and breast-feeding, and existentially,
through the moral and practical life. If by "human beings" legal theorists mean women as well as
men, then the "separation thesis" is clearly false. If, alternatively, by "human beings" they mean
those for whom the separation thesis is true, then women are not human beings. It's not hard to
guess which is meant... n15

[*1128] What strikes us in this argument is that it could just as easily be promoted by advocates
of the Moral Majority. The ideology of the Moral Majority, in another context, says the same
thing: women are essentially linked to children and because of this are more "warm and
compassionate." The Moral Majority would also agree that people today are too separated from
one another and that we need to return to some kind of "real connection." However, while such
advocates would argue against "separation" in order to impose the view that the place of women
is at home (where a woman can always be "connected" with her husband and children and thus
find the expression of her true "essence"), West's intention is, on the contrary, to find ways to
overcome patriarchal domination.

The tension between "separation" and "connection," as well as the critique of human rights in
feminist legal theory, touches on one of the major problems of feminist theory - the notion of the
Cartesian cogito. The majority of contemporary feminist theorists oppose the notion of the
cogito: the cogito, as the abstract notion of a subject, is perceived as a patriarchal notion per se,
which renders philosophy as such patriarchal. According to this view, the notion of the cogito

provides the basis for the universality of male domination, as well as for "separation" of
individuals, i.e., in the framework of the cogito the individual is perceived as an abstract entity,
separated from other individuals.

The most common feminist approach to the notion of the cogito rejects the cogito primarily on
the grounds that it is falsely neutral: behind its presumed neutrality lies a series of hidden
presuppositions which align a masculine subjectivity to it better than a feminine subjectivity. n16
Such a feminist critique stresses that the cogito is not neutral enough and that, in order to make it
truly neutral, one has to cleanse it of the remainders of male precedents, especially since it is
already the very neutrality of the cogito which implies male prerogatives. Furthermore, feminists
stress that in Descartes's philosophy the cogito is linked to the rigid opposition of the two
substances - mind-body or subject-object - which [*1129] reduces the body to res extensa,
inanimate matter subjected to mechanical laws and governed by technical manipulation. This
notion of the body involves the correlative notion of the subject perceived as a fixed self-
identical entity standing opposed to reality regarded as the object of possible technical
manipulation. And in the modern universe, this position of a fixed self-identical subject is clearly
a male position. That is to say, in the division of work brought about within capitalist society,
man is perceived as the upholder of knowledge and of the working process, in contrast to
woman, who is excluded from this process and constrained within the privacy of family life.
Women are perceived as nonrational beings, subjected to passions: they are passive victims of
the affective mechanisms that govern their inner lives, who "can only ever look at history in
terms of little stories, through the wrong end of their opera glasses." n17 From this perspective
emerges a constant motif in post-Cartesian philosophy that regards women as passive,
impressionable human beings who, in contrast to men, are not able to purify their souls and attain
the reflective attitude of an objective observer - a bearer of impartial knowledge. Criticizing this
philosophical notion of women, feminism usually reaches the conclusion that it is necessary to
affirm a specifically feminine form of subjectivity that involves a different attitude towards the
world, one involving dialogue instead of domination, plurality of particular links instead of the
reign of an abstract universality, etc.

Current feminist challenges to the cogito lose some of their force when we recall that, in the
seventeenth century, when Descartes was formulating his ideas, some women tended to embrace
the cogito as a liberating idea. These women, self-styled Cartesians, with whom Descartes
corresponded and debated his ideas, regarded the cogito as a way to overcome patriarchal
domination. For them, the cogito confirmed that reason is neutral in terms of sex and that
"anyone can fill the place of the individual subject" n18 because the notion of subject as such has
no sex.

If Descartes still thought of the cogito as a "thinking thing," with Kant the cogito became the
locus of a nonsubstantial subjectivity. In Kant's view, the cogito, as the empty form of
apperception, does not have any positive ontological consistency in itself. As such, the cogito is
neither male nor female: thus, we cannot say [*1130] that it is essentially patriarchal. On the
contrary, it is the very nonsubstantiality of the cogito, its abstract character, which enables us to
discern features of patriarchal domination.

Lacan, who has been cited as one of the last "Cartesian orphans," n19 discovered this Kantian
potential in the notion of the cogito. First of all, Lacan radically "desubstantializes" the cogito by
showing how Descartes's reading of the cogito as res cogitans reveals that Descartes
misunderstood his own invention. Cogito is definitely not "a thing which thinks," instead it is a
thoroughly empty form, a substanceless point of self-reflection. And Lacan's wager is that, on the

ground of this substanceless void of the cogito, it is possible to formulate sexual difference. Here
we have to take into account Lacan's seemingly paradoxical assertion that the subject of
psychoanalysis is none other than the Cartesian subject of modern science. This subject emerges
by way of the radical desexualization of the human relationship to the universe. That is to say,
traditional Wisdom was thoroughly anthropomorphic and "sexualized" its comprehension of the
universe structured by oppositions bearing an indelible sexual stamp: yin-yang, light-darkness,
active-passive. On this anthropomorphic model, the relation between the microcosm and the
macrocosm, between the parallel structures of human beings, society and universe, was
perceived in terms of both correspondence and organic unity. For example, the birth of the
universe was derived from the coupling of the Earth and the Sun; society was regarded as a body
politic with the monarch as its head and workers as its hands. In modern society, in contrast, we
are confronted with a nonanthropomorphic reality perceived as a blind mechanism which
"speaks the language of mathematics" and can be expressed only through inherently meaningless
formulas. In this society, every search for a "deeper meaning" of phenomena inevitably fails. The
modern subject thus emerges without any support in the universe and searches in vain for traces
of its meaning. The pain of adapting to such a reality is evident from the recent return of an
anthropomorphic-sexualized worldview in the guise of pseudo-ecological Wisdom ("new
holism," "new life paradigm," etc.).

It is against this background that we can measure the extent of Lacan's achievement: he was the
first to outline the contours of a nonimaginary, nonnaturalized theory of sexual difference, a
theory which radically breaks with anthropomorphic sexualization [*1131] ("male" and
"female" as the two cosmic principles, etc.). For Lacan, "the formulation of sexual difference and
sexual desire are not tied to any essential body." n20 This is why drawing a parallel between
Lacan's "formulas of sexuation" and Kant's antinomies of pure reason is fully justified: in Lacan,
"masculine" or "feminine" is not a predicate that provides positive information about the subject
or designates some of its phenomenal properties; "masculine" or "feminine" is rather a case of
what Kant conceives of as a purely negative determination, one which merely marks a certain
limit. More precisely, such a negative determination registers a specific modality of how the
subject failed in its bid for an identity which would constitute it as an object within phenomenal
reality. n21 Lacan is thus as far as possible from the notion of sexual difference as the
relationship of two opposite poles which complement each other, together forming a whole of
Man: "masculine" and "feminine" are not the two species of the genus of Man, but rather, the two
modes of the subject's failure to achieve the full identity of Man. "Man" and "Woman" together
do not form a Whole, since each of them is already in itself a failed Whole.

We must also abandon the idea that before modern society (established on the notion of the
Kantian cogito) there existed a society where patriarchal domination did not exist in a form as
explicit as it is now. In pre-Cartesian society sexual difference as such did not exist; society was
organized as a sexual community per se and functioned as an extended family. This society was a
hierarchic organization: people were born into their social roles (of rich or poor, and of women
or men). Patriarchal domination was therefore universal, spread throughout the whole of society.
When, with the advent of modernity, society became an organization of autonomous individuals
and previous sexual communities were replaced by national communities, patriarchy had to
affirm itself in an implicit masked way. Only when people were perceived as formally equal did
sexual difference as such become thinkable. With this claim, I do not intend to contradict the
feminist thesis that philosophy is marked by patriarchal ideology. n22 My point is simply that the
foundation of this ideology is not the cogito as feminists currently perceive it, and on the
contrary, that the very notion of the cogito can provide ways to overcome patriarchy. [*1132]

It is possible to answer Robin West's criticism of liberal theory, as a theory that wrongly defines
the subject as separated from other subjects, on two levels. First, psychoanalytic as well as
Foucauldian and deconstructionist feminist theory have for decades strongly opposed the view of
the subject held by West. When she speaks about women as connected, West implicitly views the
subject in a biologically determined and fixed way. The contribution of modern feminist theory is
not, as West says, the view that "women are essentially connected" with other human beings, but
rather, what feminist theory does is to analyze the effects of the patriarchal ideology which
perceives of women as connected, warm, etc. Second, in opposing the liberal "separation thesis,"
feminist theory does not recognize that it is the Kantian subject (on which liberal theory is
grounded) which makes it possible for feminist theorists to think of intersubjectivity. The
Kantian subject, as an empty form of apperception, is always in need of another subject to
ground its identity: as long as I am an empty, split subject, what I am is always linked to what the
Other (in the sense of another human being, as well as the symbolic order) thinks I am. n23

Human rights in the modern sense of the term can only appear within the space of
intersubjectivity established by the Kantian cogito. Before Kant, rights were defined vertically
and were understood as granted by some power beyond human beings (God, for example). With
Kant, rights became established horizontally: the rights of one individual are defined in
opposition to the rights of another. n24 The point is that the rights of another individual do not
only limit our rights but also define them. When we perceive another individual as someone who
has rights, we recognize him or her as the agent who defines what we are, what kind of rights we
have. Linked to this is the question, why did the notion of human rights appear only in
eighteenth-century bourgeois society and not before? The invention of democracy brought with it
the notion of a forced choice and a sacrifice the subject had to make in order to become a
member of the community. The social contract, which incorporates the subject into the symbolic
community, is linked to [*1133] the subject's having to make a choice: the subject has to choose
freely to become a member of the community, but this choice is always a forced choice - if the
subject does not "choose" community, it excludes itself from the society and falls into psychosis.

With the help of Lacanian psychoanalysis it can be said that through this ritual of the forced
choice the subject undergoes symbolic castration and actually sacrifices the incestuous Object
that embodies impossible enjoyment (but as Lacan says, the paradox is that this Object is not
given prior to its loss, and that it only comes to be through being lost). Before the invention of
democracy when the social community still functioned as an enlarged family, this sacrifice did
not exist in such a way: the subject was naturally linked to the community (the subject was by
nature a social being, zoon politikon, in Aristotle's terms) and did not need to freely accept it. In
premodern society, the subject's "entering the society" was not such a traumatic act of choice and
sacrifice, because in this hierarchic society, the subject became included in the society by an act
of initiation. Although the subject underwent castration in pre-modern society, castration became
visible only by the invention of democracy. The same logic is, on another level, at work with the
notion of the "empty place of the power," introduced by Claude Lefort. We cannot say that the
place of power became empty only with the invention of democracy. The place of power was
already empty: but with democracy this emptiness became visible, while before, it was masked
by the presence of the monarch.

The introduction of rights is nothing other than a substitute for the fundamental prohibition to
which the individual is submitted upon becoming a social subject. As such, rights serve the same
function as the Lacanian notion objet a, the object cause of desire. The objet a is the substitute
the subject gets when it is subjected to castration upon entering the realm of symbolic mediation.
At the same time, however, the objet a is also the element that renders all other potential

substitutes insufficient. For example, when the child is weaned from the breast and loses its
primal object of desire, every other object will be seen as a substitute, as something to fill out
this place of the primary lost object. Desire will therefore range from one object to another but
will always remain unsatisfied, it will always be a "desire for something else" insofar as these
new objects are seen as substitutes for the first object. n25 Thus, on the one hand, the objet a fills
the lack, the split that traverses the [*1134] subject after castration, but, on the other hand, the
objet a prevents any object from really filling this lack. The same goes for rights: although we
get them as a substitute for the fundamental prohibition necessary to live in a society, rights
actually prevent any substitute from filling the lack which was introduced by the prohibition.
Although we have rights, a right that would express the notion of rights itself does not exist. All
we can do, in this regard, is to invent new rights perpetually, searching in vain for a right that
would affirm us as nonsplit subjects.

III. Human Rights: The Quarrel Between Universality and Particularity

The universality of human rights and their abstract character are necessary for the functioning of
democratic society. It is equally essential that this universality remains empty, without content.
Because human rights possess this kind of universality, they function in the same way as
Lacanian mathemes. A matheme is something that can be inscribed, constructed at some Real
place, but whose content cannot be defined or displayed in reality. A matheme is an inscription
which cannot be translated and always remains the same because it does not have a meaning in

Lacan describes what he means by a matheme by invoking the difference between the meaning
of the words "exist" and "ex-sist" (or insist). Something can exist only if it can be articulated in
language. But what only ex-sist or insist (and belongs to the Real) cannot be described in
language. This is true, for example, for the objet a - it can only be inscribed, formulated in "quasi
logical-mathematical" terms. And this is also true for human rights. As long as they are only a
construct, an empty universality, human rights as such do not exist, they can only "insist," i.e., as
a substitute for something fundamental which the subject has lost; thus, they belong to the Real.
Similarly, human rights can never be fully described in language, as there will always remain a
gap between positive, written rights, and the universal idea of human rights.

By analyzing the question of the universality and the particularity of human rights with the help
of Lacan's formulas of sexuation, n26 we can see how it is possible to articulate the problems of
sexual difference and human rights in another way that feminist legal theory does. Through his
formulas of sexuation, Lacan argues that man and woman are defined (and split) separately with
[*1135] respect to the "phallic function." Lacan understands the phallic function as symbolic
castration, as something that happens to a human being when he or she enters language.

Man is completely subordinated to symbolic castration and thus wholly determined by the
phallic function. Man's logic is a logic of universality: the whole of a man falls under the phallic
function, i.e., man is altogether determined by symbolic castration, but at the same time the
position of man implies that there is one man (the Freudian "primordial father") who is an
exception and is not subordinated to symbolic castration. This "primordial father," as is well
known from Freud's myth, is the possessor of all women, the father who is not subordinated to

the law and to whom the threat of castration does not apply. The woman's logic of the formulas
of sexuation also has two parts: the first formula says that not all of a woman falls under the
phallic function, and the second formula says that every woman is at least in part determined by
the phallic function. For women, however, the phallic function does not govern completely.
Woman, Lacan says, is in respect to the symbolic order not whole, as she is not totally bounded
and determined by the phallic function. But Lacan argues that although not all of a woman is
defined by the phallic function, she is nevertheless situated within the symbolic order.

When Lacan says that Woman does not exist, he means that women cannot be adequately defined
through language: women have something (the presumed woman's jouissance) that escapes the
symbolic order. Bruce Fink, in describing the formulas of sexuation, argues that women have
more "direct" access to the Real, to that which is "unsymbolizable," around which the symbolic
order is structured. n27 The Lacanian feminine logic thus presents what is particular, what is
symbolized, but what also escapes symbolization.

If the idea of human rights is analyzed with the help of Lacan's formulas of sexuation, two logics
can be found to be at work in it. According to the first, the currently dominant "male" logic, all
people have rights, with the exception of those who are excluded from this universality (for
example, women, children, foreigners, etc.). In contrast, according to the second, the "feminine"
logic, there is no one who does not have rights, i.e., everybody taken individually possesses
rights, but precisely because of this we cannot say that people as such have rights. This feminine
logic could be [*1136] called a postmodern logic of rights. According to this model it is not the
case that human beings as such have rights, but that none remain without rights. Rights as such
cannot be universalized, because universalization always needs an exception: there has to be
someone who does not have rights for the universal notion of rights to exist. A postmodern
approach to rights would be based on the claim that no one should remain without rights, which
also means that no one can universally possess them. Understanding human rights according to
the Lacanian formulas of sexuation enables us to articulate a discourse of human rights that does
not conceal social antagonisms, while still retaining its critical function.


There is still another conflict between universalism and particularism that pertains to the notion
of human rights. On the one hand, rights granted the individual are his or her own individual
rights while, on the other hand, they also open up the space for collective, group rights. But the
problem is whichever right (group or individual) we claim to have a priority, we cannot escape a
certain violence that pertains to this choice. Liberals and communitarians usually think there is a
clear answer to this dilemma. For liberals it is the individual right, and for communitarians the
group rights are perceived as progressive, as democratic in their character. However, we are all
familiar with the cases in which the claim for the protection of group rights opens up the
possibility for some nondemocratic practice. Let us take the famous American case Santa Clara
Pueblo v. Martinez. n28 The case deals with the Pueblo custom and law according to which the
children of women who married men outside the tribe lost their tribal status. This custom
pertains only to women: if men marry nontribal members their children do not lose their rights to
the tribal property. The tribe claimed that the patrilineal order was essential for the preservation
of their cultural identity while the woman, Julia Martinez, objected to this stand by pointing out
that the identity of the tribe was not founded on the patrilineal order and that the traditions of
kinship changed during the history of the tribe. In this case, the group [*1137] right of the tribe
eventually prevailed over the individual right of the woman. n29

Another famous example of the conflict between group and individual rights from the United
States is the case of the Amish community's refusal to send their children to public school. n30 In
France, there is the well-known case of the right of Muslim women to wear head scarves in
school, as well as the case of Nigerian women being denied the right to female circumcision.

How are we to decide between the competing claims of an individual's rights and group identity
when the group identity accounts for a substantial part of the individual's self-identity? The
problem is more radical than it might appear: it is not only the opposition between the group and
individual rights that is at stake (in this case, for a liberal the choice, clearly, is individual rights).
The division between the group and individual rights crosses, splits, the individual at the
innermost level since the group rights are part of his or her identity. If we take from the
individual his or her group identification the individual is no longer the same, and he or she loses
the support of his or her individual identity.

A liberal approach to these dilemmas is usually the following one: people have the right to
submit themselves to tortures like female circumcision if only they have been properly informed
that these practices are uncivilized. However, the problem with this approach is that there is no
space where people can be properly informed. There is no neutral space of knowledge. The very
space (school, for example) that we perceive as the place where people will be informed about
different possibilities, is already perceived by the groups as having a certain kind of violence that
undermines their identity (the Amish case clearly shows this). The fact is that there are no clear
answers, no solutions to these dilemmas, and that the conflict between the priority of group or
individual rights remains unsolvable - it is one of the main antinomies of the society as such.

The notion of rights opened up this dilemma of the individual and group rights. But the notion of
rights also opened up the possibility of a debate about this dilemma, as it enabled us to reflect on
the problem. Rights make the conflict visible.


n1. See Alain Renaut & Lukas Sosoe, Philosophie du droit (1991).

n2. See 1 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction (Robert Hurley trans.,
Pantheon Books 1978) (1976).

n3. See Francois Ewald, L'Etat providence (1986).

n4. See Claude Lefort, The Political Forms of Modern Society (1986).

n5. Id. at 258.

n6. Id.

n7. Id.

n8. CLS theorists oppose liberal theorists by saying that liberals divide the world into two totally
separate spheres: individual-community or self-other. Connected to this division is the fact that
rights discourse, in the opinion of CLS theorists, is utterly individualistic: it perceives the
individual as separated from the community and prevents individuals from understanding how

they are dependent on one another - how every individual is linked to every other. Rights
discourse also forces people to accept the social order as something inevitable and thus
encourages individual passivity. Furthermore, it renders individuals completely dependent on the
state because rights discourse sets up the state as the only agent that can grant rights. For an
analysis of CLS in America, see Peter Goodrich, Sleeping with the Enemy: An Essay on the
Politics of Critical Legal Studies in America, 68 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 389 (1993).

n9. Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut argue that already in liberalism two types of rights were at work:
rights-freedoms, which were securing political rights of individuals and thus demanded minimal
state intervention into the lives of citizens, and rights-demands, which were trying to regulate
social needs of the individual and were thus demanding intervention of the state. See 3 Luc Ferry
& Alain Renault, Political Philosophy: From the Rights of Man to the Republican Idea (Franklin
Philip trans., Univ of Chicago Press 1992) (1985). For Ferry and Renaut, both rights are now
totally connected, because in democracy, political equality demands equality of the social
conditions under which individuals live.

Although socialist societies officially secured both types of rights, they actually perceived social
rights as more important than political rights. In socialism there was no need to protect political
rights because once the proletarians took power into their own hands, there was no further need
to protect individuals from the state. Social rights, however, had to be fully protected: the state
had to intervene in the economy, it had to be responsible for the social and economic security of
its citizens, it had to control all spheres of production, as well as education, etc.

For Ferry and Renaut the difference between rights-freedoms and rights-demands parallels the
difference between reason (Vernunft) and the understanding (Verstand) in Kant's philosophy.
Rights-freedoms belong to the order of the understanding because they can be realized so that,
for example, the state imposes some legal regulations in order to protect individuals. Rights-
demands belong to the order of reason: they have the role of the regulative ideas - these are the
rights that can never be realized and society can only gradually approach them. This second type
of rights cannot belong to the positive law, because we can never fully attain social security, total
equality in employment, housing, or cultural needs. The paradox of the socialist law is that it
tried to realize precisely these rights. Socialist law was thus a program for a total realization of
social equality. But in attempting to achieve this goal, socialist law had to abolish all political
rights and freedoms. Thus, in its attempt to realize something that can be only an abstract idea,
socialism abandoned "reason" - rights-freedoms, which were able to be enacted into positive law.

n10. Claude Lefort, Democracy and Political Theory 39 (David Macey trans., Univ. of Minn.
Press 1988) (1986).

n11. See Frances Olsen, Statutory Rape: A Feminist Critique of Rights Analysis, in Feminist
Legal Theory: Readings in Law and Gender 305-17 (Katharine T. Bartlett & Rosanne Kennedy
eds., 1991) [hereinafter Feminist Legal Theory].

n12. Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development

n13. Catharine A. MacKinnon, Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: Toward Feminist
Jurisprudence, in Feminist Legal Theory, supra note 11, at 195. For a criticism of MacKinnon,
see Drucilla Cornell, Beyond Accommodation: Ethical Feminism, Deconstruction, and the Law

(1991) and Jeanne L. Schroeder, The Taming of the Shrew: The Liberal Attempt to Mainstream
Radical Feminist Theory, 5 Yale J.L. & Feminism 123 (1992).

n14. Robin West, Jurisprudence and Gender, in Feminist Legal Theory, supra note 11, at 201
(quoting Naomi Scheman, Individualism and the Objects of Psychology, in Discovering Reality
225, 237 (Sandra Harding & Merrill B. Hintikks eds., 1983)).

n15. Id. at 202.

n16. For the feminist critique of the cogito, see Susan Bordo, The Flight to Objectivity: Essays
on Cartesianism and Culture (1987); Feminism as Critique: On the Politics of Gender (Seyla
Benhabib & Drucilla Cornell eds., 1987); Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman (Gillian
C. Gill trans., Cornell Univ. Press 1985) (1974); Genevieve Lloyd, The Man of Reason: "Male'
and "Female' in Western Philosophy (1984). For Lloyd, the notion of the Cartesian cogito with
its masculine character marks a declaration of war against women: the notion of Reason invoked
by the cogito excludes women by fixing them as a negative pole of the dichotomy body-mind.
Feminists thus have to expose the limit of this ideal of Reason and discover a richer form of
thought which would not exclude the feminine.

n17. Michele Le Doeuff, The Philosophical Imaginary 2 (Colin Gordon trans., Stanford Univ.
Press 1989) (1980).

n18. Erica Harth, Cartesian Women: Versions and Subversions of Rational Discourse in the Old
Regime 73 (1992).

n19. See Alice A. Jardine, Gynesis: Configurations of Woman and Modernity (1985).

n20. Teresa Brennan, History After Lacan, 19 Econ. & Soc'y 277, 301 (1990).

n21. See Joan Copjec, Read My Desire: Lacan Against the Historicists (1994).

n22. See Le Doeuff, supra note 17, for the analysis of antifeminism in philosophy.

n23. I am well aware that it is almost common knowledge today that the Kantian subject is
monological and as such excludes the dimension of intersubjectivity. With the help of Lacanian
psychoanalysis, it can be shown conclusively, however, that intersubjectivity in the
posttranscendental Hegelian sense is only possible against the background of the Kantian
subject. See Slavoj Zizek, Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology

n24. 1 Luc Ferry, Political Philosophy: Rights - the New Quarrel Between the Ancients and the
Moderns (Franklin Philip trans., Univ. of Chicago Press 1990) (1984).

n25. See Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection 166-67 (Alan Sheridan trans., W.W. Norton & Co.
1977) (1966).

n26. See Jacques Lacan, Le seminaire de Jacques Lacan, Livre XX: Encore 1972-1973, at 9
(Jacques-Alain Miller ed., 1975).

n27. Bruce Fink, "There's No Such Thing as a Sexual Relationship": Existence and the Formulas
of Sexuation, 5 Newsl. Freudian Field 59, 77 (1991).

n28. 436 U.S. 49 (1978). I rely for the following textual discussion on the unpublished paper by
Marty M. Slaughter, Preserving Cultural Communities: Group Rights and Multiculturalism in
America and Canada (1994) (unpublished manuscript, on file with the author).

n29. The United States Supreme Court held that the issue was one of self-determination for the
tribal court, and not for the federal courts to decide. Santa Clara Pueblo, 436 U.S. at 49.

n30. Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972).

Copyright (c) 2005 Yeshiva University
Cardozo Law Review

February, 2005

26 Cardozo L. Rev. 1139

LENGTH: 9183 words


NAME: Renata Salecl*


* Senior Researcher at Institute of Criminology, Faculty of Law, University of Ljubljana,

Slovenia; Centennial Professor at London School of Economics; regular visiting Professor at
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

... When masses of people become truly happy, capitalism falls into deep trouble. ... This article
will look at the issue of worries in the context of the logic of social prohibition that we encounter
in late capitalism. ... But especially important is "Helping Your Angry Child" to become "anger-
free." ... In regard to life choices, Freud has made quite skeptical comments. ... Given that this is
the case, then why does the ideology of the late capitalist self encourage us to live "as if" we
were without limits, in fact free? Is the modern self out of touch with reality, delusional in some
sense? Can we argue that late capitalism is producing more psychosis, as some psychoanalysts
want to suggest? ... In analyzing human desire, psychoanalysis has from the beginning linked
desire with prohibition. ... For the masochist, castration has not been completed, which means
that the symbolic law did not become fully operative. ... " Maybe the gloomy prediction that we
are entering into a society dominated by psychosis expresses this very enjoyment in catastrophes.



Will Fergusson in his novel Happiness n1 envisions our society finally becoming truly happy.
This happens after people become mesmerized with a particular self-help book, which in the
most compelling way offers advice on how to achieve true self-fulfillment in life. The small
book becomes like a virus, which continuously spreads around society. People who read it
suddenly abandon their previous lives, simplify their clothing, stop buying expensive cosmetics,
stop obsessing about changing their bodies with the help of plastic surgery, cancel their
subscription to gym, give up cars and all other usual consumerist possessions, and abandon their
old jobs by placing on their office doors a note: "Gone fishing!" These newly awakened people
brim with happiness - their faces look relaxed, they constantly smile, their bodies move in a
joyful way, and their whole demeanor exults serenity and contentment. When masses of people
become truly happy, capitalism falls into deep trouble. Industries start collapsing one by one.

Deeply worried, the publisher of the book and the leading capitalists decide to find a way to stop
this happiness movement. They start searching for the author of this dangerous self-help book.
Soon it is revealed that the writer is not an Indian guru as was stated in the book, but an old loner
who lives in a trailer park. When this man learned that he had cancer, he decided to provide
financial legacy for his grandson by writing a book, which in essence combines all the major
ideas of already existing self-help books. The story ends when the publisher convinces the old
man that his writing did more harm than good for the progress of society. The author is then
encouraged to write a new book on how to be miserable so capitalism can again flourish.

People often come to psychoanalysis in order to find happiness in their lives and they imagine
that the analyst is a happy person. If [*1140] psychoanalysis is supposed to provide a cure for
unhappiness, then the analyst must have been cured from this pathology in order to help the
patient. To such expectations, Jacques Lacan, mischievously adds: "It is a fact that we / the
analysts / do not disclaim our competence to promise happiness in a period in which the question
of its extent has become so complicated: principally because happiness, as Saint-Just said, has
become a political factor." n2 But then Lacan concludes that: "It is a waste of time ... to look for
the shirt of a happy man, and what is called a happy shadow is to be avoided for the ills it
brings." n3

The novel Happiness envisioned that a truly successful self-help book would bring capitalism to
an end, since it is precisely capitalism that constantly encourages us to assess our current state of
happiness and, of course, search for more of it. Walter Benjamin took capitalism as a form of
religion; as a celebration of a cult, which very much plays on the feeling of guilt. His point is that
"worries" become mental illness characteristic of the age of capitalism. n4 What kind of worries
are we concerned with today? Does Benjamin's prediction that feelings of guilt are a crucial part
of capitalism hold true today? Or is something changing at the start of the 21st century?

Benjamin had a conflicting relationship with psychoanalysis; however, looking at the nature of
worries and guilt today very much demands our attention to what psychoanalysis says about the
way capitalism affects subjectivity. This article will look at the issue of worries in the context of
the logic of social prohibition that we encounter in late capitalism. Today it appears that, on the
one hand, people are encountering fewer and fewer external prohibitions which in the past were
transmitted with the help of traditional authorities (like father, state, or church leaders, etc.)
while, on the other hand, people are imposing ever new prohibitions on themselves.


"Be yourself!"

In the Western world people are not only under the impression that there are endless possibilities
to find fulfillment in life, but they are also encouraged to be some kind of self-creators, i.e., they
are supposedly free to choose what they want to be. In this highly individualized society, which
allegedly gives priority to the individual's freedoms over submission to group causes, people,
however, face an important anxiety provoking dilemma: "Who am I for myself?"

[*1141] The answer to this question is in no way simple, which is why there is a huge advice
industry, which tries to guide people in their search for their "essence." On the cover of a recent
Cosmopolitan magazine, we can thus read a promise that the magazine will help you to:
"Become yourself, only a better one"; on the Internet various astrology sites provide free samples
of insight into the "Real you"; and on television one can undergo a total body makeover which is

supposed to allow people to forge a body image in which they will feel comfortable with

President Bush was reported to have said: "I know who I am, and I want to become who I am."
The self is something to be aspired to, like the latest fashion or the latest consumer object. Self-
aspiration and the created self are seductive. The winner of the most recent Big Brother contest
in the U.K. was a Portuguese transgender woman, Nadia Almada. When she was told that she
had won, her response was "Now I am recognised as a woman." One question is why Nadia
found such popularity with British television audiences. It seems from anecdotal evidence that
what many voters found seductive was the project of a self-journey, the realization of a desire to
make something completely different of oneself. With her self-transformation, she seemed to
embody for the audience the ideology of self-creation that underpins today's consumerist society.
It is perhaps not surprising that psychoanalysts report that they are encountering numbers of
people who come into analysis with the demand: "I want to reinvent myself."

However, in this attempt to remake oneself and become someone unique, one can easily observe
a pattern of sameness. Walter Benjamin already envisioned this move towards sameness when he
observed that:

The commodity economy reinforces the phantasmagoria of sameness which, as an attribute of

intoxication, at the same time proves a central figure of semblance... . The price makes the
commodity identical to all the other commodities that can be purchased for the same amount.
The commodity empathizes ... not only and not so much with buyers as with its price. n5

This phantasmagoria of sameness can easily be perceived in the way the ideology of "self-
creation" actually functions. Although people are constantly reminded to make out of themselves
what they want, they are actually following ideals of sameness. One only needs to look at the
results of body make-overs that one can observe on television, and one gets a confirmation that
for the price one pays to get a new body, one actually purchases a body image that everyone else
adheres to.

The ideology that promotes the motto "Be yourself!" and relies on the Nike ad, "Just do it!" also
encourages the idea that people need to be [*1142] able to "manage" themselves. One is
constantly reminded by the dominant media to work on relationships, n6 on parenting, to become
a better person and especially to manage one's emotions. A simple search on amazon.com in
regard to how to deal with an emotion like anger gives us a list of 95,000 books that deal with
this issue. A quick look at the titles gives the impression that anger is a huge problem in today's
society. We seem to live in "The Trap of Anger," are dealing with "The Dance of Anger," "Anger
Kills," there is "The Enigma of Anger," which causes "Anger Disorders"; and there are "Angry
Women" who seem to experience rage differently than men. But especially important is "Helping
Your Angry Child" to become "anger-free." However, most of the books offer advice on how to
get rid of angry feelings. "Anger Management," "Overcoming Anger," "Beyond Anger,"
"Conquering Anger, Letting go of Anger," "Anger Control, Healing Anger, Working with Anger,
Taking Charge of Anger" are only some of the titles of books that are supposed to help us deal
with this emotion. But the next step is to "Honour your Anger," to go "From Anger to
Forgiveness," and especially to realize that "Anger is a Choice."

The idea that we are supposed to be able to manage ourselves and that there is a choice in how
we deal with our emotions is linked to the very perception of the self that dominates late
capitalist society. Today, the true self is increasingly self-made, and more than that, an individual
project. In the 1980s and 1990s, drawing on the work of Michel Foucault, n7 academic theories
emphasized the social construction of the self. However, now self construction has become a
cultural imperative in the West, and the emphasis is not on social determinations, but on the
individual project of self-making. This is related to what Ulrich Beck n8 and others have called
"individualization." While individualization takes many forms, it always involves a
"fetishization" of the autonomous self, one that refuses to acknowledge the idea that society can
set limits on self-aspiration. Paradoxically, the ideology of a limitless world is itself a product of
late capitalism and the relentless drive of consumer society with its emphasis on endless choice
and possibility.

If, on the one hand, we live under the assumption that everything in life can be a matter of choice
- on top of consumer and usual political choices, we can choose not only how we look, but our
sexual orientation, whether or not to have children, what kind of medical [*1143] treatment we
want, etc. - on the other hand, the very choice itself seems to be anxiety provoking n9 and deeply
dissatisfying. n10 That is why we often hear in the popular media that our society actually suffers
from so-called tyranny of choice and an abundance of freedom.

Existentialist philosopher and novelist, Albert Camus, nicely described how everything in life is
a matter of choice when he posed the question: "Shall I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?" It is
not simply that our existence is defined by the choices we make in our lives; our very existence
is itself a matter of choice.

In regard to life choices, Freud has made quite skeptical comments. When his friend asked him
for advice about whether he should marry a particular woman, Freud allegedly said that when it
comes to small matters in life, one should think long and hard before making a decision, but
when it comes to the big one, like to marry or not, to have children or not, one should just do it.
One can speculate that no matter what we rationally choose in these circumstances, we will never
be able to determine the outcome of our behavior since the unconscious will always guide us on
paths that we cannot control.

II. Troubles with Choice in Times of the Dissolution of the Big Other

Consumer choice seems to be the most overwhelming problem in late capitalism. Barry Schwartz
starts his book The Paradox of Choice with the difficulty a consumer faces when he or she wants
to purchase a simple pair of jeans. n11 Does one want slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit, baggy or extra
baggy fit? Should the trousers be ankle length, normal, or long; faded or regular; black or blue;
with button-fly or zipper-fly? Consumer choice becomes even more anxiety provoking when, in
any normal supermarket, we need to choose between 85 brands of crackers, 285 sorts of cookies,
360 shampoos, and 275 types of cereal; or when college students at American Ivy League
schools need to choose between 350 courses of general education. Although shopping is
perceived as one of the favorite pastimes in today's advanced capitalism, and people are spending
more and more time in malls, they seem to be enjoying it less and less.

One area where choice is especially traumatic is medicine. Doctors today no longer play the role
of authorities - deciding what is [*1144] best for the patients. Rather, they are mostly informing
the patient about his or her options and then the latter needs to make a decision and give so-
called informed consent. n12 However, do people really want to choose their treatment when

they get seriously ill? The idea of choice seems appealing until one faces a life threatening
situation, however, when things get tough, people hope that someone else - an authority who
supposedly knows - will choose for them. Research has thus shown that when a group of healthy
people was asked whether they want to choose treatment if they get cancer, sixty-five percent
said yes. But among people who actually did get cancer only twelve percent wanted to make this
choice. n13

Why is there such dissatisfaction in regard to choice? Schwartz finds the problem to be too much
choice. Quoting psychological research that shows how people exposed to less choice are more
satisfied, Schwartz proposes various forms of self-limitation that consumer should impose on
him or herself in order to feel more content about his or her choice. So, one should "choose when
to choose"; be a chooser not a picker; be content with "good enough"; make decisions non-
reversible; practice an attitude of gratitude; regret less; anticipate adaptation; control
expectations; curtail social comparison; and especially "learn to love constraints."

Why is it necessary that the person invent all these self-binding tactics? When people complain
that there is too much choice in today's society and that they are often forced to make choices
about things they do not want to choose (like who is one's electricity provider), they often
express their anxiety that no one is supposed to be in charge in society at large or that someone
(for example, a corporation) is already "choosing" in advance what people supposedly need.
These complaints very much concern people's troubles with what Lacanian psychoanalysis calls
the Big Other - a symbolic order that we are born into and which consist not only of institutions
and culture, but primarily of language that shapes our social sphere. It is Lacanian common sense
that the Big Other does not exist, which means that the symbolic order we live in is not coherent,
but rather marked by lacks, i.e., inconsistent. A large body of literature has thought through what
this inconsistency means, and one way to perceive the lack that marks the social has been to
think of it in terms of various antagonisms that mark the social. n14 In addition to stating that the
Big Other does not exist, Lacan stressed the importance of people's belief that it does. That is
why Lacan ominously [*1145] concluded that although the Big Other does not exist, it
nonetheless functions, i.e., people's belief in it is essential for their self-perception.

The act of choosing is so traumatic precisely because there is no Big Other: making a choice is
always a leap of faith where there are no guaranties. When we try to create self-binding
mechanisms which will help us feel content with our choices and eventually help us to be less
obsessed with choice, we are not doing anything but "choosing" a Big Other, i.e., inventing a
symbolic structure which we presuppose will alleviate our anxiety in front of the abyss of choice.
The problem, however, is that the very existence of the Big Other is always our "choice" - we
create a fantasy of its consistency. And by doing so, we choose the possibility of not choosing.

The type of belief people have in the Big Other differs from subject to subject. There are
especially large differences between people for whom it might be possible to ascertain that they
have a neurotic structure and those who are psychotics. While neurotics have a lot of doubts,
uncertainties, and complaints in regard to the Big Other, psychotics might develop a much more
threatening perception of the Big Other and, for example, start perceiving themselves as being
persecuted by an invisible voice or gaze, and thus being overwhelmed by the Big Other's massive
presence. The uncertainties that neurotics deal with very much prove that the Big Other does not
exist as a coherent whole, which is why neurotics often engage in a game of searching for a
master who seems to be in charge (and thus appear as a consistent Other), while at the same time
they try to undermine the master's authority. With the latter gesture, neurotics in a paradoxical
way acknowledge the inconsistency of the Other.

In recent years there has been growing debate whether something changed in our perception of
the Big Other. Did the symbolic structure in late capitalism change? Or was the subject's belief in
the Big Other altered when traditional authorities, which were often perceived as the
embodiment of the Big Other (like state, church, nation, etc.), lost their power? Pierre Legendre,
already a decade ago, expressed a catastrophic view about the lack of social prohibitions by
warning that: "We do not understand that what lies at the heart of ultramodern culture is only
ever law; that this quintessentially European notion entails a kind of atomic bond, whose
disintegration carries alongside it the risk of collapsing the symbolic for those generations yet to
come." n15 Referring to psychoanalysis, Legendre points out that a subject's entrance into
language involves an act of separation:

What psychoanalysis designates by general formulas such as the original or the law of the father
is nothing other than an original [*1146] separation which inaugurates subjective life (in a sense
of a separation of the infant from the maternal entity), as subject to the law of differentiation
through speech. Now separation supposes an aside (ecart), a representation of emptiness, the
integration, both by society and by the subject, of the category of negativity. n16

Legendre explores whether Western culture has given up on "introducing the subject to the
institution of the limit," while other authors question if on top of that we also gave up on the
category of negativity. It is a common reflection today that the subject is under constant pressure
to enjoy - to find ways to fill up his or her lack. The media, especially, seems to contribute to this
"push to enjoyment."

What does it therefore mean when we hear philosophers like Legendre say that we are living in a
world without limits, or when psychoanalysts n17 speculate that man is more and more without
gravity, or when sociologists speculate that people feel so insecure and unhappy precisely
because they seem to have far more choices in their lives than used to be the case in the past? Do
we really live in a limitless world? Before we can make an attempt to answer this question, we
need to explain what we mean by a limit. Psychoanalysis has been from its beginning thinking
about the logic of the limit that every speaking being needs to deal with.

One of the cornerstones of Lacanian theory is the idea that the subject, by becoming a speaking
being, goes through the process of symbolic castration and becomes marked by a lack. It is
through the father that castration is passed on to the child. It is not that the father is a castrating
figure. The agent of castration is very language. It is the signifier that prohibits some primordial
jouissance by replacing the thing with a word. The role of the father is to be the agent of the
signifier, i.e., he "utters" the prohibition. However this prohibition does not come into being via a
simple father's "No!" that limits the close relationship between a mother and a child. For the
prohibition to be installed the actual father does not even need to be present, since what is crucial
is the way prohibition is part of the very discourse with which a mother (or another primary
caregiver) addresses the child. That is why Lacan when referring to symbolic law uses the term
the Name-of-the-Father. Although in patriarchal culture it is often the father who is the
transmitter of the symbolic law, the father actually does not embody this law. Symbolic law,
which "castrates" the subject, is effectively linked to the way language operates on the subject
and the father is only a transmitter of this operation. But it is crucial that the father is castrated
[*1147] too. Thus in the final instance the father is the agent of castration only in so far as
castration passes through him. However, if the actual father is not present, or if he in no way

represents symbolic law, things might not turn bad for the subject as long as there are other ways
through which the child becomes marked by the symbolic law (i.e., mother's discourse or the
influence of other significant people in the child's life).

Although the lack that marks the subject is perceived by the latter as loss of some essential
jouissance, it is actually a cornerstone of subjectivity - i.e., because the subject is marked by a
lack, he or she will constantly try to recuperate the object that he or she perceives to embody the
lost enjoyment and that might fill up the lack. The very fact that the subject is marked by a lack
is thus the engine that keeps his or her desire alive.

When dealing with his or her lack, the subject also encounters a problem that the Other is
lacking, meaning that, on the one hand, social symbolic order is inconsistent, and on the other
hand, others, like, for example, the subject's parents, are also marked by a lack. The most anxiety
producing dilemma for the subject is how he or she appears in the desire of the Other. Since there
is no consistent Other which will be able to appease the subject and provide an answer as to what
kind of an object the subject is for the Other, the subject constantly interprets, reads between the
lines of what others say, guesses other's gestures, etc.

If these are all "normal" worries that people have in regard to the lack that marks them and the
social symbolic order, what then is the change with the worries that pertain to capitalism, which
Benjamin invoked more than half a century ago?

In the early seventies, Lacan made an observation that in a developed capitalistic system, the
subject's relationship to the social field can be observed to form a particular discourse. In this
"Discourse of Capitalism," n18 the subject relates to the social field in such a way that he or she
takes him or herself as a master. The subject is not only perceived to be totally in change of him
or herself, the subject also appears to have power to recuperate the loss of jouissance. In
capitalism, the subject is thus perceived as an agent who has enormous power.

What does it mean that the subject is placed in the position of such an agent? First, it looks as if
this subject is free from subjection to his history and genealogy and thus free from all signifying
inscriptions. This seems to be the subject who is free to choose not only objects that supposedly
bring him or her satisfaction, but even more the direction of his or her life, i.e., the subject
chooses him or herself.

[*1148] Lacan points out that one finds in the "Discourse of Capitalism" rejection or better
foreclosure of castration. This foreclosure happens when society more and more functions
without limits and where there seems to be a constant push towards some kind of limitless
jouissance. This push to jouissance at all costs is especially visible in all forms of toxic mania -
from excessive consumption of alcohol, drugs, shopping, workaholism, etc. n19 Capitalism more
and more transforms the proletarian slave into free consumer. However, limitless consumption
paradoxically provokes the moment when the subject starts "consuming himself."

And although the subject in "Discourse of Capitalism" is perceived as being totally in charge or
him or herself and especially free to make numerous choices, one sees a paradoxical trend that
this possibility of choice opens doors to an increase of anxiety. One of the ways to deal with this
anxiety becomes strong identification with the master. The latter allows the subject to relinquish
his or her doubt, to avoid choice and responsibility, and thus in some way to find a relief for his
or her own existence.

The subject who seems to be liberated from social constraints paradoxically appears powerless
towards the figures of Time (Baudelaire): "Aging, dying, inscribing one self into the succession
of the generations, all this became more and more difficult. If one lives in the illusion of the
eternal present, the child risks to be nothing more than another gadget, more cumbersome than
dachshund and less original than a robot-dog." n20 It is not difficult to agree with the idea that
aging looks like something unacceptable and traumatic in today's society. We can even say that
aging, too, appears a matter of choice - it is up to every individual to "do" something against it,
or better work on not showing the signs of aging, as well as try to follow many proposed
suggestions on how to prevent death.

III. How Did the Big Other Change in Late Capitalism?

French psychoanalyst, Charles Melman, sees the change in subjects' perception of the Big Other
as being related to the overwhelming assumption that the world is rationally organized. This
assumption is also behind the idea of rational choice. The domain of the Big Other seems to be
flooded with information which is supposed [*1149] to help people make choices in their lives.
However this expansion of information paradoxically increases people's dissatisfaction.
Melman's pessimistic conclusion is that the perception of rational organization of the world
sometimes brings people to the point of not leaving any space for alterity of the Other - or better
a space where there is no Big Other at all.

Almost a decade ago, two other French psychoanalysts, Jacques Alain Miller and Eric Laurent,
also speculated that there is no Big Other anymore in today's society and that today's obsession
with various ethical comities attest to this change. n21 Scientific development opened many
questions and there are no authorities on which one can rely for answers, which is why we create
various temporary, ad hoc structures (like committees). The latter are supposed to help us in
dealing with the inconsistency of the Big Other, but they, of course, always fail in providing the
certainty we search for. However, are we truly to be so pessimistic about the structure of the
social order in which we live?

French philosopher, Dany-Robert Dufour, presents his own pessimistic view about the demise of
our symbolic structures. Dufour departs from Freud's presupposition that each culture in its own
way forms the subjects who then try to discern the always-specific footprints leading to their
origin. "Which is why one paints the Other, sings it, one gives it a form, a voice, stages it, gives
it representations and even a super representation, including the form of irrepresentable." n22
The Other supports for us what we cannot support - thus providing the ground which found us.
Which is why our history is always the history of the Other, or better figures of the Other. Dufour
further points out that the subject is always the subject of the Other, which in the past has taken
many forms of some kind of big Subject - from Physis, God to King, the people, etc. Throughout
history, the distance between the subject and this big Subject reduced itself. With modernity,
however, there emerged a plurality of the big Subjects, which is linked to the decline of the
power of the Church and the vast expanse of scientific progress. However, the subject also
becomes more and more decentred in regard to him-or herself.

Dufour concludes that in post-modernity there is no longer an Other in the meaning of the
symbolic Other, the incomplete ensemble to which the subject can address a demand, pose a
question, or present an objection. It is similar to say that post-modernity is full of semblants of
the Other. n23 In this late capitalist society, the market emerges as a form [*1150] of a big
Subject. Following Benjamin's prediction that capitalism functions today as a new form of

religion, some today are stating that the Market appears as a new God and anyone opposed to the
dogma of the free market economy is quickly called a heretic.

In today's culture, the subject is permanently decentred, however, also the symbolic place around
him or her is more and more anomic and diffused. Discussions on post-modernity have thus
focused on the fact that there are no grand narratives anymore, that there are no strong authorities
with whom the subject identifies, and that individualism seems to have been pushed to its limit,
so that the subject more and more perceives him-or herself as self-creator.

Dufour places the moment when the subject becomes auto-referential at the time of
Enlightenment. This is when the subject stops referring to an outside Being, like God, land, or
blood, to confirm his being as a subject and becomes in some way his or her own origin.

One can easily agree with this proposition and confirms it by looking at the very notion of
human rights that emerged in the post-Enlightenment type of organization of society. Human
rights are supposed to protect precisely this auto-referentiality of the subject. Since the expansion
of human rights went more and more in the direction of neglecting the external determinants like
race, nationality, sex, and age and protecting the subject as a neutral being, one can even
speculate that rights in the final instance protect a certain lack in the subject, essential
indeterminacy that is at his or her very core. When we claim to have rights regardless of our race,
class, sex, etc., it looks as if we are saying: "I am who I am - that is why I have rights."

IV. The New Psychotics?

Today's capitalist ideology seems to imply a proposition: "Be who you want to be!" which relies
on the assumption that the subject is a self-creator. Does this trend of promoting self-creating
contribute to the apparent rise in psychological problems that psychoanalysis is concerned about?
Are we to believe that the worries Benjamin was talking about have escalated to the point of
serious changes in today's subjectivity?

While it is easy to admit that there have been changes in subjects' self-perception, as well as in
their perception of the Big Other, is one right to conclude that these changes contributed to an
increase of psychosis? Lacanian psychoanalysis takes psychotics as people for whom social
prohibitions have not been operative in the same way as they were, for example, for neurotics.
The so-called Name-of-The- [*1151] Father, the social symbolic law has been foreclosed and a
castration has not been operative in the upbringing of a psychotic.

Psychotics are thus people who have their own very special view of reality, who have not in
Freud's famous formulation agreed to give up something to be part of society. Such individuals
often function perfectly well for long periods of time until a small event in their life triggers a
full-blown delusion. As in Freud's case of Schreber who was a respectable judge until he was
elected Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and then developed the idea that he was turning into a
woman with direct contact with God.

Nowadays, French psychoanalysts are looking closely at the cases of so-called non-triggered
psychosis where there is no delirium to show that a person has a psychotic structure. Some are
thus reviving Helen Deutsch's idea of so-called "as if" personalities: these are people who might
not actually develop a full-blown psychosis like Schreber, but nonetheless have a psychotic
structure. Some analysts call these cases "ordinary psychosis" or "white psychosis." What

distinguishes these individuals from neurotics is that they often express enormous certainty with
regard to their perception of reality. They are people without doubts.

One French psychoanalyst describes the case of a male patient who had a number of successful
careers in his life. As a young man, he had befriended a lawyer in a prominent firm and became a
successful lawyer himself. Then he met a sailor on the street and followed him into the merchant
navy. Later he encountered a businessman and he subsequently turned himself into a successful
businessman. Unlike Schreber, this was not a delusionary form of psychosis triggered by a
particular event. Rather it was a series of successful identifications where the patient not only
mimicked other individuals, but also used these powerful identifications with people he
randomly encountered to transform his whole life without experiencing any apparent anxiety or
doubt about the path he had chosen. When the psychoanalyst asked the patient why, given his
success, he felt it necessary to enter analysis, he replied simply "My wife told me to do so." Not
surprisingly, he became a very successful patient!

In 1956, Lacan took the "as-if" (which is nowadays often referred to as borderline structure) as
"mechanism of imaginary compensations" to which subjects have recourse who "never enter into
the play of signifiers, except by a sort of exterior imitation." This form of imitation can easily be
understood as another version of the simulacra and sameness that Benjamin was talking about.
When the subject is caught in this imaginary dimension, he or she has lots of problems with his
or her identity (interweaving of identity, illusions of doubles, etc.). One of the features of
psychotics is that they are obsessed with mimicry, [*1152] shaping themselves according to one
set of ideas and then just as quickly abandoning them, and especially by strongly identifying with
other people.

Early capitalism celebrated "the self made man" who took entrepreneurial risk through exploiting
his talent. Late capitalism has taken this a stage further and made the self-made man a
commodity. There must surely be a small irony in the fact that Edward L. Bernays, Freud's
nephew, was one of the leading figures behind modern public relations in the beginning of the
last century, known as "The Father of Spin." One of his great achievements was to introduce
women to smoking through promoting the idea of women's freedom. However, he believed that
people only buy something because an authority with whom they identify possesses that object.
Contemporary marketing relies on the premise that you create your own style - that you find in
fashion a distinctive expression of self. There is a definite irony in the fact that this ideology is
promoted effectively through mass marketing and brand affiliation. Yet is it really true that there
are no authorities in the world other than the individual self? It seems clear that the ideology that
there are no authorities rests on new authorities, such as corporations.

But are they the only authorities; is the world really that different from the past? Are we really
living in a limitless world? We have increasingly interventionist states, and authoritarian leaning
leaders like Bush and Blair, and numerous other authorities in the form of self-help gurus,
religious leaders, and the like. Given that this is the case, then why does the ideology of the late
capitalist self encourage us to live "as if" we were without limits, in fact free? Is the modern self
out of touch with reality, delusional in some sense? Can we argue that late capitalism is
producing more psychosis, as some psychoanalysts want to suggest?

This would be a duly simplistic and pessimistic conclusion. There is certainly some evidence for
increasing plasticity in forms of identification. Players on the internet rarely appear as
themselves, preferring in many cases to change not only their gender and sexual orientation, but
also their race, religion, and age. There is nothing new about fantasizing about being someone

else, but modern trends suggest something more profound. In the 18-25 year-old age group in the
U.K., more young people not only report having had a sexual experience with both a person of
the same sex and of the opposite sex, but they are unwilling to classify or categorize their
sexuality on the basis of sexual practice. The distinction gay/straight appears to have little
purchase for [*1153] these young people in terms of how they categories themselves and others.
As one commentator remarked "Homosexuality is over!" n24

However, refusing categorization and playing with your sexual identity is not the same thing in
any sense as Schreber's delusion that he had been turned into a woman. Schreber had no doubt
about his bodily transformation. It is also not the same thing as the mimicry in the case of "the
successful patient" described earlier whose transformations caused him no anxiety or uncertainty.
In contrast, those of us who are ceaselessly remaking ourselves in the contemporary moment
have many doubts, and can often feel overwhelmed by the fear of failure. Our play with
identifications is quite different from the mimicry of the psychotic. His or her certitude is
replaced in the contemporary moment with something that looks more like the celebration of

Yet, this undecidablity is itself caught up in capitalist circuits as evidenced by the rise - and
subsequent marketing - of the metrosexual. Metrosexuality, rather than being a sexual identity, is
more a set of consumer identifications. So under late capitalism, shifts in identity and indeed in
identifications are celebrated as the new vogue and turned into profit.

But, despite this process, there is little proof that contemporary society is increasingly psychotic.
People are still deeply concerned with the question of who they are for others, and how they
should interact with others. One reason, perhaps, why we are seeing an increasing obsession with
self-help books. We certainly live in a world that is self-centered and encourages us to "love
ourselves." However, to follow this imperative is not a simple matter, which is why finding an
answer to it is a lucrative business. A simple search on amazon.com tells us that there are
138,987 books which try to help you love yourself. Including one with the title the Learning to
Love Yourself Workbook, which shows that labor is as important a part of capitalism as ever.

V. New Forms of Intimacy

Some psychoanalysts conclude that "Discourse of Capitalism" does not leave space for love,
especially not space for sublime courtly love. What we have instead is an increase of narcissistic
illusion and a push towards sexuality that hopefully brings some lost jouissance. Jean-Pierre
Lebrun n25 concludes that today's subjects have problems determining how to situate themselves
in regard to sexual difference. Sexual identification is linked to the way the subject places him or
[*1154] herself after going through the process of castration. n26 With the changes in the level
of the castration complex there seems to be more of a turn towards androgyny and bisexuality.
However, the main problem is that in "Discourse of Capitalism," sexuality becomes perceived in
a narcissistic way: "Since sexuality is a matter of competitive rivalry and consummation, it does
not concern anymore a choice of a stable object. It is primarily a matter of seduction." n27

If one cannot easily agree with pessimistic conclusions that psychosis seems to be
overwhelmingly present in late capitalism, one nonetheless needs to admit that something has
changed in the subject's relationship towards him or herself as well as society at large, that there
is a change in the nature of limits and that there is a push towards excessive jouissance.

Let us look at how the lack of limits affects personal relationships today? In a society determined
by the idea of choice matters of love and sexuality at first seem extremely liberating. What is
better than envisioning the possibility to be free from social prohibitions when it comes to our
sexual enjoyment; how wonderful it appears to finally stop bothering about what parents and
society at large fashion as normal sexual relations; and how liberating it seems to change our
sexual orientation or even physical appearance of sexual difference. It is more than obvious that
such "freedom" does not bring satisfaction; on the contrary, it actually limits it.

In analyzing human desire, psychoanalysis has from the beginning linked desire with prohibition.
For the subject to develop desire,something has to be off limits. When the subject struggles with
ever evolving dissatisfaction in regard to the non-attainability of his or her object of desire, the
solution is not to get rid of the limit in order to finally fuse with the object of desire, but to be
able to somehow "cherish" the very limit and perceive the object of desire as worthy of our
striving precisely because it is inaccessible.

Looking at today's media talk about sexuality, it is not difficult to observe that there are very few
things that are prohibited (with the exception of child molestation, incest, and sexual abuse),
while there is an overwhelming "push to enjoy." Sexual transgression is marketed as [*1155]
the ultimate form of enjoyment. The idea being that if one works on it, learns its tricks and then
practices it relentlessly, there are no limits to the satisfaction a person can achieve. Cosmopolitan
magazine thus encourages those who have not yet mastered new techniques of reaching ultimate
joys to enroll in sex school. Simultaneously with this marketing of enjoyment, one reads in the
popular media about the very impossibility to enjoy. John Gray, the famous author of Men Are
From Mars, Women Are From Venus now writes about "Why my grandmother seems to have
more sex than I do." n28 His answer, of course, again turns into another form of advice: be more
relaxed, follow these or that steps of arousing desire, etc.

When we look at how we deal with sexuality in this supposedly limitless society, it is easy to
observe that limits did not actually disappear or that prohibitions still exist; however, the locus
from where they came has changed. If, in the past, prohibitions have been transmitted with the
help of social rituals (like initiation rituals in pre-modern society, and functioning of the "Name-
of-the-Father" in the traditional patriarchal society), today the subject sets his or her own limits.
The contemporary subject is thus not only self-creator, but also his or her own "prohibitor."

One can observe a particular form of prohibition in masochism. Psychoanalysis takes masochism
as a form of perversion. Of course, the term perversion is not meant in pejorative terms. For
psychoanalysis, the pervert is the subject for whom castration has not been fully operative, which
is why the subject endlessly searches for the law which might complete castration. Perversion is
thus not beyond the law, but an attempt to find the law. A masochist is someone who especially
searches for the law and wants to be punished by it. However, he actually does not want to find a
sadist to complete this task. The term sado-masochism is a wrong description of two very
different types of enjoyment in torture. As Gilles Deleuze said, a masochist and a sadist do not
form a couple. n29 A sadist takes himself as executor of some higher will, an ideal. He takes
himself just as a mere object through whom this ideal enjoys. And the sadist tortures the victims
because he is executing the desire of this higher will. The masochist, on the contrary, searches for
torturers whom the masochist himself will educate and instruct on how to beat him, etc. In the
masochist situation, the victim speaks through the torturer: here, it is therefore not the torturer
who invents the forms of punishment; the inventor is the victim himself.

[*1156] The torturer is usually a woman who takes on the role of the severe, cold mother. It is
essential for the masochist to establish a contract with the torturer that describes in detail the
conditions of the torture. The masochist is thus not simply tied by chains but by the power of the
contract through which he invests in the torturer the symbolic power of the law. The torturer acts
like a cruel mother who humiliates the father figure, who is incarnated in the victim himself. The
masochist therefore invests the law in his mother - in the very object of incestuous enjoyment -
and by doing so excludes the father from the symbolic. Paradoxically, the excluded father then
returns in the guise of the masochist himself, since the masochist takes on the role of the weak,
humiliated father who needs to be punished.

For the masochist, castration has not been completed, which means that the symbolic law did not
become fully operative. This is why the masochist, in his torturous ritual, caricatures castration
and tries to make the law operative through the contract with his mistress. The subject (i.e., the
hysteric or the obsessional) for whom the castration was effective is always unsatisfied with the
ways he or she tries to fill up the lack: the subject thus complains about the law that supposedly
prevents his or her enjoyment; however, the subject finds a special enjoyment in this very
dissatisfaction. But the masochist finds enjoyment in punishment imposed by the law that he
himself establishes. Since he lacks the symbolic prohibition, the masochist becomes an
executioner for himself. n30


When the subject deals with castration, he or she deals also with dissatisfaction. However, today,
what we are observing is an increase in frustration and not so much an escalation of
dissatisfaction. Frustration is, in a special way, linked to a subject's problem with jouissance.
Jean-Pierre Lebrun thinks that "when will to jouissance dominates the social field, brotherly
solidarity of proletarians is replaced by competition and competitive rivalry. Which is where
emerges exacerbation of social hate." n31 In contemporary racism, for example, the subject
presupposes that the Other has access to some full jouissance which provokes frustration on the
side of the subject. In personal relationships, the problem is that the subject tries to get some
excess enjoyment from the partner (for men, a sexual one, for women, a narcissistic one) and
after this attempt necessarily fails, the partner loses [*1157] importance and becomes one of the
objects one can easily reject. For the subject who lacks stable identifications, has a fluctuating
choice of objects, instability in affective investments, and quickly passes to act, one way to try to
find the lost jouissance is with the help of addictive substances. Which is why there is an
increase in addictive behavior today.

But are we to predict a rather bleak future? Instead of over-emphasizing the lack of prohibition in
today's society, I would rather stress that the nature of prohibition has changed. On the one hand,
the subject more and more searches for new forms of enjoyment and is thus under constant
pressure to consume (which sadly often brings him or her to self-consumption), but, on the other
hand, the subject desperately searches for new forms of social limits. Self-prohibition does open
doors for new forms of despair. And with the lack of traditional authorities, the subject does not
seem to be coming closer to "happiness." He or she rather desperately searches for new
authorities. A visit to any bookstore or a simple search on the internet shows us that the so-called
self-help industry is one of the fastest growing businesses. Which is why it would be too quick to
say that we live in society where the Big Other does not exist anymore or where subjects are
more prone to psychosis. Dependence on the advice culture shows that subjects still need
recourse via the Big Other.

Although Benjamin predicted that worries would become over-consuming in capitalism, he also
made a puzzling remark that: "The concept of progress must be grounded in the idea of
catastrophe. That things are "status quo' is catastrophe. It is not an ever-present possibility but
what in each case is given. Strinberg's idea: hell is not something that awaits us, but this life here
and now." n32 Maybe the gloomy prediction that we are entering into a society dominated by
psychosis expresses this very enjoyment in catastrophes. Is the biggest catastrophe of today's
society that not much has radically changed in the nature of our worries? However, we do feel
that we surpassed our predecessors in our suffering.


n1. Will Fergusson, Happiness (2003).

n2. Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection 252 (Alan Sheridan trans., 1977).

n3. Id.

n4. Walter Benjamin, Capitalism as Religion, in Walter Benjamin, 1 Selected Writings: 1913-
1926 288 (Marcus Bullock & Michael W. Jennings eds., 1996).

n5. Walter Benjamin, Exchange with Adorno on "The Flaneur," in Walter Benjamin, 4 Selected
Writings 1938-1940 208 (Howard Eiland & Michael W. Jennings eds., 2003).

n6. On the idea of working on love, see Laura Kipnis, Against Love: A Polemic (2003).

n7. See Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: The Care of the Self (1988).

n8. See Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (1992); Ulrich Beck & Elisabeth
Beck-Gernsheim, Individualization: Institutionalised Individualism and its Social and Political
Consequences (2002).

n9. For more on this, see Renata Salecl, On Anxiety (2004).

n10. There is also a so-called Monte Carlo effect in choosing (especially in gambling) which
shows that the longer the sequence of failure, the greater the expectation of success (which is
why one increases the stake with every loss).

n11. See Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice (2004).

n12. On the troubles with choice in today's medicine, see Atul Gawande, Complications: A
Surgeon's Notes on Imperfect Science (2003).

n13. Schwartz, supra note 11.

n14. See Ernesto Laclau, Emancipation(s) (1996); Jannis Stavrakakis, Lacan and the Political

n15. Pierre Legendre, The Other Dimension of Law, 16 Cardozo L. Rev. 943 (1995).

n16. Id. at 950.

n17. See, particularly, Charles Melman, L'Homme sans gravite: Jouir a tout prix, (2002) and
Jean-Pierre Lebrun, Un monde sans limite: Essai pour une clinique psychanalytique du social

n18. Jacques Lacan developed this theory in his lecture at the University in Milan on May 12,
1972. The original text is unpublished.

n19. One type of critique of late capitalism points out that the consumer is just a semblant of the
agent, following only a semblant of freedom. In reality, he or she is under the pressure of

demand. Now, this demand is not coming from the Master Signifier, but from the place of
jouissance - the object small a.

n20. See Lebrun, supra note 17, at 250.

n21. Jacques-Alain Miller & Eric Laurent, The Other Who Does not Exist and His Ethical
Committees, in 1 Almanac of Psychoanalysis 15-35 (1998).

n22. Dany-Robert Dufour, L'art de reeduire les tetes: Sur la nouvelle servitude de l'homme libere
a l'ere du capitalisme total 44 (2003).

n23. Id. at 70.

n24. I am indebted to Henrietta Moore for this assessment on U.K. culture.

n25. Lebrun, supra note 17.

n26. In his seminar on anxiety, Lacan placed castration as the ultimate prerequisite for male
sexuality. Men deal by castration by presupposing that it is "Daddy who took something from
them." If the man thinks in this way, the, Lacan, says, all will turn out well for the guy - i.e., he
will be able to find a certain amount of satisfaction in his sexual life. And, whatever goes wrong
is, of course, daddy's fault. See Jacques Lacan, Angoisse (2004).

If castration has not been effective in man's life, i.e. if there was no father's "No," then, as Lacan
says, man perceives himself a sinner beyond belief and thus sexuality becomes very much
prohibited for him. As with the death of the God, we do not have sudden liberation, but rather an
extreme of the prohibition, when castration has not been operative for the subject, his sexuality
becomes prohibited, too.

n27. See Lebrun, supra note 17, at 251.

n28. This theme was discussed on John Gray's web site. See http://www.marsvenus.com (last
visited Feb. 1, 2005).

n29. See Gilles Deleuze, Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty (1991).

n30. More on this in Renata Salecl, (Per)versions of Love and Hate (1998).

n31. Lebrun, supra note 17, at 250.

n32. Walter Benjamin, Central Park, in Walter Benjamin, 4 Selected Writings (1938-1940) 185
(Howard Eiland & Michael W. Jennings eds., 2003).

The Cross-dressing of Logic

Lacans account of sexual difference in his Seminar XX, Encore, has become
something of a commonplace in recent work on sex and gender in a wide array of fields
in the Humanities from philosophy and feminism to cultural studies and queer theory. i
It is often cited and hotly debated, but it has rarely been approached through a direct
examination of the logical formulae in which he articulates his theory. In what follows I
explain Lacans account of sexuation by showing how it distorts the formulae of the
predicate calculus to achieve a precise effect. In contast with the few commentators who
attempt to explain Lacans position,ii I argue that Lacans appeal to logic can be made
sense of in its own terms. Rather than introducing some new or alternative logic, I
demonstrate that Lacan is consciously distorting and mimicking the structure of the
Predicate calculus in an attempt to suggest what it fails to comprehend. After a brief
review of what these formulae mean in their original context, I show how Lacan
subverts their original sense in a manner that suggests that the goal of analysis is a
feminine jouissance, understood as a jouissance that is attained by inverting the lack in
the Other back into the body. I conclude with a short explanation of Lacans claim that
metaphysics has systematically misunderstood feminine jouissance as the jouissance of

I. The Argument-function Schema of the Predicate Calculus

Diagram A:Translation & Definition of the Four Formulae of Sexuation

Paternal function Feminine Jouissance

1. x(-x) 4. (-x)(-x)
There is one not subject to x Not one is not subject to x

Man Woman
2. x x 4. (- x) x
All are subject to x Not all are subject to x

The reversed E and the inverted A are called existential and universal quantifiers,
and they are employed in the predicate calculus to define the scope of predication in a
given propositional statement. In such statements some subject x, is asserted to possess
a specific predicate (in Lacans usage this is the predicate of being subject to the phallic
function). But as one can see, the subject x appears twice. First as quantified (to
indicate the possible range of values x might possess) and then again to indicate its
attachment to a predicate.
Let us consider an example: x Fx. One reads this as there is at least one x such
that x has the attribute F. In other words, the meaning of x, specifies a certain
quantified range of individuals (in this case at least one rather than all) which is
subject to the predicate-function F. Thus we can already see that Lacans usage of this
argument function schema primarily means that, the quantified range of individuals in x is
subject to the function. Hence, within the universe of discourse of speaking beings
(which is the range of possible values for x), some quantified class of individuals ( at
least one or all) is or is not subject to the function the phallic function. In other
words, some quantified class of individuals is or is not subject to the function of
I have taken the liberty of rephrasing Lacans four formulae into a more standard
notation. Thus I have rendered the negations which Lacan portrays with horizontal
bars over the quantifiers and the predicates of his formulae as a minus sign, or dash,
preceding each part of the formula which Lacans horizontal bar negates. I have also
enclosed the negated portion of the statement in parentheses, in order better to indicate
the way Lacans original formulation applies the scope of the negation. The advantage
to this approach is that it makes Lacans travesty of the syntactical rules of the predicate
calculus even more apparent than it might otherwise be. Normally, the rules of syntax
demand that any negation standing outside a formula apply to the whole formula.
Lacan, however, seems to want to negate each portion of the formula. One can see this
clearly in the case of the two feminine formulae on the right, e.g., (-x)(-x) and (-
x)x. But these formulae no longer fit within the parameters of the predicate
calculus.iv In fact, they are completely idiosyncratic, because Lacan wants to use the
negation as if it only applied to the symbol beneath it, although this clearly violates the
established rules of syntax. As Loparic writes, one symbol of quantification does not
constitute a formula all by itself; so, there is no grammatical construction which can put
the bar only above this symbol (and not above the rest of the symbols where it appears,
and of which it is a part). v
This unusual restriction of the negation permits us to specify the sense in which
Lacan is reading these formulae, for even as we find Lacan abandoning conventional

logical syntax, we can still trace the manner of his variation from the norm in a way that
is highly instructive. Because the negation of either an existential or universal quantifier
which is itself followed by a negation is identical to its opposite, it might at first appear
that the diagonal opposites in Lacans schema mean almost the same thing. In other
words, because there is not one which is not is convertible into all [i.e., - x - <=>x ],
and not all x are not is convertible into there is at least one [i.e., - x- <=> x], it might
appear that 1 is interderivable with 4, and 2 is interderivable with 3. [e.g., it might
appear that x (-x) <=> (- x) x and x x <=> (- x ) (-x)]. If we could remove
Lacans restriction of the scope of the negation, and apply them to the formulae as a
whole, this would indeed be the case. But Lacans idiosyncratic use of this notation is
specifically designed to exclude the possibility of such a symmetrical and
commensurable relation between the sexes.
So why is Lacan using this notation if it has no proper meaning within the
predicate calculus? On the most general level, what he seems to be trying to suggest is
that the way our relation to the symbolic order is assumed in the event of castration is
something so fundamental for our understanding of sexual difference, that it is on par
with the basic notation and rules of deductive logic. So, just as the rules of logic can
yield certain results without reference to the particular meanings to which they apply,
so too, the structural positions available to speaking beings can be seen as the result of
the determinate rules governing sexual difference without reference to biology. On this
view the castration complex is a kind of roll of the dice which functions according to
rules which are as determinative of sexual identity as the rules of logic are
determinative of truth and falsehood. Thus Lacans account provides a way of
understanding how sexual difference turns not around biology, but rather around the
decisive way in which one is subjected to the economy of imaginary identification. This
means there can be no genuine sexual relation, Lacan insists, because one can no more
mediate between these two possibilities than one can find a middle ground between the
binary oppositions of the true and the false in formal logic.
The crux of the problem is Lacans claim that this system of logical rules is
decidedly phallic, for this permits him to demonstrate that by favoring the masculine,
the logical/phallic order fails to capture the essence of the feminine position, which the
phallic order can only designate as a supplementary jouissance which falls outside it.
But as there is no outside of the law, woman can only appear within it as doubled.
Thus, the diagram below the formulae presents woman as having a dual relation to
both the phallus () and to the signifier of the lack in the Other, S(). What this means
is that this peculiar, supplementary, and feminine jouissance is nothing more than a
relation to the lack in the law, implying that woman somehow perceives the Other as
barred or lacking in a way that man does not.

In the time that remains, I will try to show how Lacan is consciously distorting
the notation of the predicate calculus in an attempt to suggest what lies beyond the
phallic order by articulating the antinomy that woman is both subject and not subject to
the phallic order. What I propose is that the only way to reconcile this antinomy with
the rest of Lacanian theory is to interpret it as calling for the evagination or the turning
of the phallic order back in upon itself, like the Ministers evagination of the purloined
letter in Poes tale. Thus, I am claiming that Lacans antinomial formulation of feminine
jouissance does not simply suggest womans openness to the lack in the law, but goes
further to suggest a positive characterization of her jouissance of that lack by implying
that this jouissance is attained through evaginating the symbolic back in upon the body
in order to effect a bodily jouissance of the lack that the law imposes. In other words,
what I am suggesting is that this antinomy does not imply the existence of some
alternate feminine reality beyond the phallic order as some feminists would have it, but
rather, that it only designates the existence of a lack which some women (or rather some
speaking beings who desire like women) are able to enjoy. In addition, I am also
suggesting that leading the analysand to an acceptance of this lack is the analysts
primary concern.

Figure B: Lacans attempt to suggest feminine jouissance through the evagination of

(1) Paternal Function

as the uncastrated which is
necessary to uphold the
phallic law.

(2) The bar of castration in 1

defines man as all subject to
the phallic function. The
necessity of the paternal
function makes him possible
as all.

(3) Feminine jouissance, or a jouissance accessible through the real of the body, portrayed as the
evagination of the signifier (x) (-x) as a way of suggesting the lack ignored by the phallic order
because of the visual/imaginary bias implicit in even the purest symbolic expression.

(4)Woman is not all defined by castration. Thus her relation to it is contingent, making it possible for
her to have a double relation to the phallic order, in which she can both be and not be in it at the same
time. Insofar as she is castrated she has a relation to the phallus, insofar as castration fails to address
her essence she has an access to a jouissance of the real, or a jouissance of lack, which man does not

II. The Formulae of Sexuationvi
To portray how Lacans formulae of sexuation exhibit such an antinomy,
let us examine each of Lacans formulae in turn. The two formulae on the left
signify male desire, and the two on the right represent his attempt to symbolize
female desire. The first formula, x(-x), says that there is at least one who is
not subject to the phallic function. We can think of this one who is not subject to
the phallic function as the father of primal horde in Totem and Tabu. It is the
fathers possession of all the women which marks all the sons as subject to the
threat of castration if they try to enjoy the women for themselves. This
uncastrated Father who is not subject to the phallic law is the limit case which
defines all the rest as subject to the paternal law. Accordingly, the second
formulae,x x, says, all are subject to the phallic function which, as we have
just seen, means that all male speaking beings are wholly subject to the bar of
castration wielded by the paternal law described in the first formula.
On the right side, on the top (e.g., #3, in diagram A), we find a formula
that is quite strange, (-x)(-x), which reads: there is not one that is not subject
to the phallic function. The symmetry of the diagram (which shows the two
male formulae on the left, where the top one defines the one below it) creates the
expectation that the same relation holds on the right hand side of the diagram,
but this is not the case, for as we shall soon see what is at issue in Lacans account
is a complete lack of complementarity between these two kinds of desire. If
Lacans table were in standard logical notation the second and third formulae
would mean the same thing. In other words, there is not one that is not subject
to the phallic function would mean the same as all are subject to the phallic
function, for as everyone knows, a double negation constitutes an affirmation.
But given Lacans idiosyncratic restriction of the quantifier, which separates the
negation of the quantifier from negation of the function, one cannot transform
the double negation of there is not one that is not subject to the phallic function
into the positive affirmation that all are subject to the phallic function. On
Lacans peculiar distortion of the predicate calculus, there is no logical
commensurability or complementarity between the masculine and the feminine
sides of the diagram. As a result the logical clarity and exclusivity of the
masculine side is contrasted with the logically equivocal and undecidable
character of Lacans formula for feminine jouissance: there is not one which is
not subject to the phallic function, (-x)(-x). As one can easily see, this formula
can be read in two opposing senses. On the one hand this formula claims that
there is a feminine experience outside the law, for the way the negation remains
bound to the quantifier renders the privative not one as something positive,
indicating the existence of a not one which is exempt from the law. And yet on
the other hand, the formula can also be read as claiming that there is no feminine
experience outside the law, because there is not one individual that is exempt
from the law.
This ambiguity amounts to an antinomy, which states that feminine
jouissance is at once wholly inside and wholly outside the phallic order. vii Now
what I propose is that the only way to reconcile these contradictory claims,
without lapsing into metaphysics, is to read feminine jouissance as a jouissance of
lack, which is unrepresentable as such within the phallic order. Thus, when
Lacan writes that there is not one that is not subject to the phallic function he
means to indicate that feminine jouissance is a jouissance of the lack in the phallic
law, and not some otherworldly enjoyment of an imaginary feminine reality
beyond the phallic order. The point is that this other jouissance does not fall into
neat logical categories because it is nothing that can be positively represented
within the phallic order. As a result, it is not necessary that every woman
experience it; rather, it is an experience to which women are contingently open.
This is why Lacan cancels the definite article, and says that the woman does not
exist, for feminine jouissance is a contingent non-universalizable experience that
cannot be predicated of all women. Some experience it, others do not. This is
what he is trying to indicate with the fourth formula, (- x) x, not all are
subject to the phallic function. What this formula indicates is womans
contingent openness to the jouissance of lack described in the preceding formula.

III. The Schema below the formulae

With this interpretation of the formulae, we can now see that the lower
two formulae represent the modes of desire open to masculine and feminine
subjects, while the upper two formulae indicate the jouissance which
characterizes each gender. This reveals that the desire of man, who is all
subject to the phallic function, is as an illusion. He wants to be the uncastrated
father, but this position is permanently foreclosed to him. This is why Lacan will
say that it is not possible for a man ever really to enjoy a woman. As not all
subject to the phallic order, woman, in contrast, can desire on both sides. She can
desire (and be desired) phallicly, or she can desire in a peculiarly feminine mode.
As I have already suggested, Lacan is not trying to designate a positive
feminine experience which corresponds to phallic jouissance; rather, he is trying
to bring lack as such into view in order to suggest the possibility of a jouissance
of our inability to enjoy the positive image of plenitude imagined by phallic
desire.viii Thus, Lacans formulae and the Schema directly below them suggest
that this lack can be positively characterized both as the lack in the Other and the
lack to which the Other subjects us in castration. This lack is precisely what
phallic desire wants to disavow and cannot recognize.
Diagram C: Womans Dual Relation to the Phallic Orderix

S S ()


In the Schema below the formulae of sexuation, we see that men are
portrayed as barred subjects that are completely defined by their subjection to
the phallic function. This means that they only desire in one way, by projecting a
fantasy, or an objet petit a, onto the object of their desire, which is usually
incarnated by a woman. Thus, they have a unitary relation to the phallic order
inasmuch as their desire is completely defined by it. The result is that male desire
altogether fails to recognize womans jouissance.
Women in contrast, have a dual relation to the phallic order. To the extent
that women are in the phallic order, they can desire the way men do by
projecting their objet petit a. Thus, they can both desire their own objet a, and they
can strive to incarnate the objet a for a man. But beyond participating in the
phallic order as either subjects or objects of phallic desire, woman may also have
a relation to the signifier of the lack in the Other, S(). What this means is that to
the extent that woman is not altogether subject to the phallic function of
castration, she may have a contingent opening to a jouissance of the real lack
which the law imposes on the subject but which escapes phallic symbolization.
On this view, feminine jouissance is not an insight into the real as some sort of
alternative feminine plenitude beyond the phallic law, but much rather, an
integrated acceptance of the real limitation of being split by the law. It is an
acceptance of castration a jouissance of the lack it imposes which is not
possible for masculine desire because it remains wholly defined in terms of its
subjection to the phallic law, and can neither perceive the laws limits, nor the
lack it imposes.
What this suggests is that feminine jouissance is a non-thetic awareness of
the being of the lack by which the subject is constituted. This is why Lacan can
say most women do not know anything about this jouissance. It is also the reason
why Lacan can ironically refer to his crits as on par with the writings of the
mystics. What Lacan is suggesting is that, like mysticism, psychoanalysis is also a
hysterizing discourse that speaks from an ek-static experience that is beyond the
grasp of the phallic law. The difference is that psychoanalysis is aware of what it
has experienced, so that it is capable of grasping both the laws function and its
limits. This means that Lacan is claiming that psychoanalysis constitutes an
improvement on mysticism to the extent that psychoanalytic theory possesses
the conceptual tools to articulate this ek-static experience as feminine jouissance,
rather than as an experience of the unbarred Other, or God. Thus, Lacans
articulation of womans supplementary relation to the signifier of the lack in
the other, S(), is not just an empty theoretical articulation, but rather, an
attempt to name the way psychoanalytic practice turns around this relation to
S(), and seeks to transmit its understanding of the function of this lack in
analysis. This means that Lacans account of feminine jouissance is less about
orgasm than it is about enjoying the being of signifiance and embracing the lack
by which you are constituted. But it also means that Lacans theoretical
articulation of sexual difference is closely connected to the question of the goal of
analysis. For after all, is not the most favorable outcome of analysis one in which
the analysand learns to enjoy his lack? What I am saying is that Lacans account
of sexual difference implies both that pschoanalysis speaks from the place of
feminine jouissance, and that its goal is to help others reach that place as well.

IV. The Confusion of Woman and God in the Metaphysical Tradition

Where feminine jouissance grasps and enjoys this lack, phallic desire
refuses to acknowledge it, and remains constitutionally incapable of grasping it
as such. Rather than acknowledging this lack, the phallic order has instead
transposed it into the idea of divine plenitude, or the idea of an unbarred other,
or of an uncastrated heavenly father who stands outside the phallic order and
who brought it into being. This is why Lacan will say that the metaphysical
tradition has confused woman with God, for as a result of its inability to
symbolize the mystery of womans lack (for how after all can you represent
absence as such from within the symbolic order?) and its inability to grasp the
mystery of her ability to bear, it has confused the petit a of male desire for
woman with the metaphysical desire for an ultimate ground of explanation (e.g.,
for an unbarred grand A, or big Other).
This confusion, or meconnaissance, occurs on two levels: there is a
displacement of mans desire for woman as his objet a onto the desire to know an
ultimate metaphysical ground of explanation (here one objet a metonymically
slides into the other so that man passes from the desire for woman to the desire
for God along the axis of contiguity). But the metaphysical tradition, Lacan
suggests, arose from a more basic confusion, namely, through a condensation
which substitutes womans presumed enjoyment of a mysterious plenitude for
Gods presumed enjoyment of an absolute knowledge of his own creation. Here
the mistaken notion of womans enjoyment of a plenitude beyond the phallic
order is substituted for the idea of the divine enjoyment of an absolute
knowledge of the whole of creation along the axis of substitution.
Because the phallic order can only represent feminine jouissance as a
mysterious plenitude, rather than as an enjoyment of a lack (i.e., as it cannot
grasp this lack as such from within the symbolic order of substitution), man has
substituted womans lack of subjection to the phallic function (and the
corresponding fantasy of her supposed enjoyment of a plenitude beyond it), for
the idea of God. It is as a result of this confusion that Lacan can say that the
ethical and metaphysical tradition aims at effecting the jouissance of God.
Lacans position in this analysis is essentially that of the materialist
critique of religion in modern philosophy. Because man is unable to accept the
idea of a meaningless universe, he paves over this lack with the idea of God,
thereby substituting the notion of Gods jouissance of his creation for womans
jouissance of a capacity to bear that man imagines as a mysterious plenitude of
the eternal feminine, and an enjoyment of the real beyond the symbolic. What
men fail to grasp is that womans capacity to bear is just another instance of our
common subjection to the more primordial lack of sexuation and death. x Thus,
the phallic order confuses woman with God because it fails to grasp that the lack
of the signifier is taken up within in a real, earlier lack situated at the advent of
living being in its relation to sexuation and death. It is to this more primordial
lack which Lacans diagram refers when it indicates womans extra-symbolic
relation to S().
On this view, those feminists who read Lacans notion of feminine
jouissance politically, or who support some notion of feminine generativity as
participating in some primordial fullness beyond the phallic order, are subject to
the same meconnaissance as phallocentrism, for like the metaphysical tradition,
they too fail to grasp Lacans articulation of the meaning of feminine jouissance as
a jouissance of the lack imposed by the law. This lack is nothing positive; rather, it
is simply the lack constituted by our subjection to castration, understood as both
the symbolic lack of the signifier and the real lack of our subjection to sexuation
and death. Thus,feminine jouissance is not an enjoyment of an imagined lack of
subjection to the law, but rather an enjoyment and an implicit recognition of our
subjection to the lack in the Other. As such, it is more an insight into the limits of
the phallic law, and an integrated acceptance of the absolute limitation
constituted by the lack which the phallic law conceals, than it is something which
can be reified and thus brought into the phallic order as something positive,
upon which either feminist or church fathers, for that matter, might establish a
platform for social change. This is why Lacan can say that most women do not
even know anything about it. Their lack of awareness of it indicates the
contingent and ephemeral character of this jouissance. By positing the ek-
sistence, or standing forth, of feminine jouissance beyond the phallic order Lacan
is in effect claiming that the hysterizing discourse of psychoanalytic theory can
name feminine jouissance because it itself emerges out of such a jouissance of the
lack by which the subject is constituted.

Copyright Erich D. Freiberger, 1998

Two earlier versions of this paper were presented under the title The Travesty of Logic in Lacans Account of
Sexual Difference at the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, at Georgetown University on
October 11, 1996 and at the International Conference on Sexuation sponsored by Nomos and the South Florida Lacan
Group at Columbia University Teachers College on April 12, 1997.

Viz., Bruce Fink There is no such Thing a sexual relationship: Existence and Formulae of Sexuation in
Newsletter of the Freudian Field, 5.1-2, (1991): 59-85, and The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance
(Princeton: University Press, 1995), and Jonathan Scott Lee Jacques Lacan (Boston: Twayne Publishing, 1990). Joel
Drs Introduction la Lecture de Lacan , vol. II. (Paris: Denoel, 1992), is an exception and provides an excellent
and careful introduction to the formulae, but because Dr reads Lacan as articulating a new logic rather than as
distorting the conventions of existing logic (233), he does not try to assess the significance of Lacans deviation
from standard notation. Cf. also Joan Copjecs The Euthanasia of Reason in Supposing the Subject (New York:
Verso, 1994). Copjecs remarkable article casts these formulae in terms of Kants antinomies, arguing that the
masculine and feminine sides of Lacans formulae represent the dynamical and mathematical antinomies
respectively. Although I also use the term antinomy, my reading of the antinomial nature of Lacans formulae
is somewhat different from Copjecs. Where I examine the formulae on the basis of their deviation from the rules
of the Predicate Calculus, to discover an an antinomy in the formula xx Copjecs is more concerned
with interpreting the formulae as symbolic expressions of Kants antinomies. In spite of this difference of
emphasis, my approach is ultimately consistent with her claim that sexual difference cannot be deconstructed,
(23), even if it does not concern itself with her thesis that Lacan is explicitly appropriating Kants first Critique.
Indeed, my only reservation about her article concerns the severity of her thesis that Lacan has appropriated
Kant. For, persuasive as she is, this thesis goes too far on purely Kantian grounds. For if one grants the Critique
is true, it would be quite astonishing if the antinomial character of reason could reveal itself nowhere else.

To the extent that no one completely escapes the bar of castration a pure feminine jouissance does not exist
beyond the law, but designates, rather, a supplementary jouissance to which woman may have access not as
something separate from her subjection to the phallic order, but rather, precisely because of it. This is a jouissance
of her lack of the phallus, and not a jouissance which would derive from a supposed lack of subjection to the
phallic order, as if she had an openness to something outside it.

Cf. Andrea Loparic, Les negations et les univers du discours in: Lacan avec les philosophes (Paris: Albin Michel,
1991) 241.

Loparic, 241, translation mine. Loparics focus on Lacans violation of the established rules of syntax becomes
the source of her interest in developing a logical calculus in which quantifiers can be negated by themselves. But
brilliant as it is, I cannot see how this helps us attain a better understanding of what Lacan is up to; for in the end
his violation of syntax aims at articulating an experience in the real which lies beyond the limits of the symbolic.
Apart from this my only quibble with Loparic is that her translation of this as x as x is a (240) seems to
obscure the point that what is at issue here is a subjection to the castration wielded by the paternal function.

The ensuing disucssion will refer to the English translation of Lacans two lectures God and the Jouissance of
the Woman, and A love Letter in Feminine Sexuality, tr. Jacqueline Rose, ed. Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose
(New York: W.W. Norton, 1982) 137161.

This double reading of (-x)(-x) which renders it both as something positive referring beyond the phallic,
and something negative which makes all women subject to the phallic order is what Fink has in mind when he
says that ex-sistence is not exclusive of existence. Lacans play on the word existence appears to be drawn from
Heideggers use of the word ekstasis in Being and Time. By appealing to Aristotles use of the word enstasis in the
Rhetoric and the Topics (Feminine Sexuality, 141), Lacan appears to be trying to suggest a contrast between in-
sistence within the phallic order as the realm of logical opposition, and a possible ex-sistence (147), or standing
forth beyond it in feminine jouissance. Thus, to say that the feminine jouissance named here does not exist means
it does not exist in the phallic order. This does not, however, exclude its ex-sistence or standing out into the
real. The trouble is Fink doesnt clearly distinguish between (-x)(-x) as feminine jouissance and (-x)x as the
source of a possible openness to it. So he claims that (-x)x ex-sists as well, which I think is a mistake. This
latter formula names the contingent, non-universalizable condition of women who exist (or in-sist) in the phallic
just as xx names the universalizable condition of men who exist. The point is that as existing in the phallic the
way women are marked by castration means they have a contingent access to something that escapes the phallic
order. As (-x) x woman might ex-sist, i.e., she might stand forth beyond it, but then again she might not.

In other words, he is suggesting that it is possible to experience a jouissance of our subjection to the law
instead of concealing the inexorable fact of our symbolic castration beneath the guise of phallic substitution. But
how to say this through symbolic substitution is a notoriously difficult problem which is at least as old as
Parmenides injunction against naming non-being. What I am suggesting is that like the Eleatic Stranger in
Platos Sophist, Lacan is committing the parricide of saying not-being is. But unlike the Eleatic Stranger,
Lacan recognizes that to name the lack and bring it into the phallic order is to fail to grasp its character qua lack.
This is why he tries to bring the lack into view through a travesty of logical form which subverts the structure of
logic by articulating an antinomy which is at once within and without the phallic order. His formula for
feminine jouissance is an attempt to suggest psychoanalysis non-thetic awareness of the limits of the law in a
way that cannot be fully articulated within the symbolic formulations of the predicate calculus, which as the
most univalent and precise formalization of the phallic order, represents the phallic order par excellence.

This is the second part of the diagram that begins Lacans lecture A Love Letter (Feminine Sexuality, 149).

Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis (Seminar XI). Ed. Jacques-Allain Miller. trans. Alan
Sheridan (New York: W.W. Norton , 1978) 204-205.
The full quote reads as follows:
Sexuality is represented in the psyche by a relation of the subject that is deduced from something other
than sexuality itself. Sexuality is established in the field of the subject by a way that is that of lack.
Two lacks overlap here. The first emerges from the central defect around which the dialectic of
the advent of the subject to his own being in the relation to the Other turns - by the fact that the subject
depends on the signifier and that the signifier is first and of all in the field of the Other. This lack takes
up the other lack, which is the real, earlier lack, to be situated at the advent of the living being, that is to
say, at sexed reproduction.
The real lack is what the living being loses, that part of himself qua living being, in reproducing
himself through the way of sex. This lack is real because it relates to something real, namely, that the
living being, by being subject to sex, has fallen under the blow of individual death.