THE DESIRE FOR DESIRE
- Can Psychoanalysis Speak About? -
In this paper I seek to raise some questions concerning the status of psychoanalysis as a theory. I propose a reading of Lacan’s enigmatic 'graph of desire' as articulated in Seminar VI and in his canonical essay The Subversion of the Subject, using it as a didactic tool towards unraveling the structure of desire. I show how this graph articulates Lacan's reading of the Freudian Oedipal-myth, the castration complex, and his structuralist-inspired departure from psychological and traditionally philosophical schemas of the subject. In this regard, I propose to read Lacan's account of the unconscious as articulated in the order of the signifier as attacking both empirical conceptions of the subject, epistemological accounts of knowledge and desire, and ontological conceptions of objectivity.
I begin by presenting how Lacan’s subject of desire articulates two asymmetrical trajectories: that of the subject of the unconscious, and that of the signifying chain. I briefly explain how Lacan deflates the ontological-epistemological valence of the contents of thought, by supplanting the structuralist relation of suture to and traversal between signifiers for the representationalist relation of reference between words and things, using the graph as my didactic anchor. The basic result I wish to highlight is how every individuated being or agent, every particularity open for thought, is made relative to the order of language, and so that the latter admits of no exteriority subject to philosophical seizure. Such an account illustrates the subordination of all objective individuation to the traversal of the subject of the unconscious through the meaning-endowing defiles of the signifier, where the imago formed during the mirror-stage become fixed onto the symbolic order, wherein the epistemological and psychological illusions of subjects qua self-subsistent individual of knowledge emerge, as well as the corresponding self-subsistent other or object, nesting the ontological illusion of a qualitatively robust conception of being. In the second section I show how psychoanalysis is forced into a methodological quandary concerning its capacity to articulate not just a clinical practice, but propose a series of claims about a presumed structure. I consider some of Lacan's proposed answers to this quandary through his account of the Real, and suggest that they force him into a pragmatic contradiction. This is due to the inability to disambiguate between the Real as pure practice or act, and the Real as a pure matheme or inscription, void of meaning.
(a) The Oedipus Complex and the Imaginary - A Mythical Prelude
Crossbreeding the structuralist avowal of the primacy of the signifier with the Freudian account of the unconscious, Lacan proposes to articulate a theory of subjective desire around the singular idea that “the unconscious is structured like a language”. To understand this enigmatic formula we must assess how Lacan re-constructs the Freudian Oedipal myth of paternal prohibition, in order to conceive of the subject as fundamentally affected by the idea of a primordial loss; an ideal unity which is simultaneously the basis of what the subject identifies itself as, as well as an impossible ideality that remains forever alienated from the subject which hosts the desire. This decentered (mis)identification of the subject with an-other, signals that the identity of being is directly correlative to a certain insufficiency, or a lack that makes one not yet fully coincide with the ideality thus projected. It is insofar as the subject cannot fully coincide with its projected identity that generates the structural repetition of desire around an impossible object-cause (which Lacan famously calls objet petit a). But because the conscious identification of a determinate thing/one desired can never annul the gap between the subject and the object, the 'Real' object of desire is rather perpetually displacing, non-self identical object that can never be attained. The impossible object is thus that which would interrupt the endless circulation of desire around a concrete 'being', and rather is that which subtracts itself from every explicit intending. The subject is thus that which can never coincide with the individual that it identifies itself with, and the Real object is that which can never coincide with the explicit being that it identifies as the object of the desire. This seemingly paradoxical congruence between the subject and the real object on the one hand, and the individual and the being of imaginary-symbolic objectivity, and desire as the structure that generates this insurmountable gap, is what we set ourselves to explore for the rest of this section.
In Seminar VI, and later in The Subversion of the Subject (1967) Lacan finally proposes a series of graphs which articulate the progressive unfolding of the subject of desire, in its diachronic and synchronic development, tying together the general iterative structure of the subject of desire with the developmental account of the organism. In what follows I propose to assess this articulation in the task of showing how the psychoanalytic account of desire is meant to undermine the ontological-epistemological phantasy that reifies imaginary-symbolic signifiers ("being", "knowledge", "God"...) on the condition of excluding desire from being given its proper due. I will suggest towards the end why this deflationary strategy becomes problematic when assessing the status of psychoanalysis as a theory, and not just a practice. My general contention, will be to suggest that the Lacanian reworking of intentionality, deflating the relation of reference between words and things, creates problems when attempting to disambiguate between the theory of desire that psychoanalysis is supposed to be, and another manifestation of desire itself. In other words, I propose to show that conflating the relation between the signifier and the signified, flattening the latter into the former, creates difficulties when understanding how psychoanalysis relates to its subject matter. But before we tentatively comment on these larger consequences of the Lacanian project, some preliminaries are well in order.
As is well known, at the core of the Lacanian account of the development of the subject, is the attempt to trace how the imaginary figurations and objectual identifications that the infant generates between six and eighteen months of age (the so called ‘mirror-stage’) constitute a libidinal economy. I use this term somewhat liberally to mean simply that during this stage the fundamental structure of the subject as a subject of desire is first articulated. For the purposes at hand, I shall not concern myself with retelling the details of the Lacanian version of the Oedipal Myth, which has been done in detail elsewhere. What I wish to focus on is on what I take to be the core of the account in tracing how the images that the subject gathers and builds an identity from supports desire by being correlated to the symbolic or language, i.e. how the subject enters the "defiles through the signifier" within which the subject will circulate around the (impossible) object of desire.
It is this iterative structure of desire which is prefigured and developmentally accounted for in the Oedipal Myth. The latter shows how the Paternal Law, which is externally imposed as a decentered Otherness, institutes itself by enacting what we might call, following Zizek, symbolic castration. By the latter I mean the following: in entering the order of language the self-alienating and self-constituting split between the subject and its imaginary identifications is relative to how language prescribes and incorporates the subject, in what Lacan calls a 'chain of signifiers'. We shall attempt to explain this admittedly obscure formulation below, but the basic idea is that who the subject thinks it is or should be, its placing, so to speak, is determined on the basis of a language that he acquires by external conditioning as it were, and never immediately or transparently. It is this self-alienation that articulates the inaugural phantasy of a self-identical subject, experienced as an injunction to become equal-to-itself, since what it lacks is precisely that which will presumably restitute its being as a whole. In other words, the self-alienation of the subject founds the notion of a subject as being ontologically consistent to itself, thereby veiling the (unbridgeable) gap between its immediate (non)-being and its imaginary-symbolic figurations. Seeing itself outside of itself, the subject operates according to that oft-quoted motto from Rimbaud which Lacan was so fond of repeating during the early years of his teaching: "je est un autre". Because self-relation and self-constitution is paradoxically grounded in this moment of self-alienation, it is both the moment of narcissism and that of absolute estrangement: "One can sense, one can pick up that narcissism is involved somewhere, and that this narcissism is involved at this moment of the Oedipus complex." (S6, L6, pp. 92) Because the self emerges as a result of its paradoxical attempt to become equal to an other, that is, insofar as it experiences itself as lacking, desire chases after a 'phantasmatic' image-symbol outside of itself. Or rather, more precisely, the 'outside' is a function of a subject that by virtue of desiring is split between the object it identifies itself with, and the void which subtracts from every such identification. The structure of desire is that of a 'phantasy', a chasing after ghosts that promise to dissolve as soon as one pretends to occupy their place.
This entails that the purported unity and emergence of what Freud called the "perception-consciousness system" that characterizes thinking beings is to be explained by placing it in contrast to a notion of subjectivity that is recalcitrant with that of the ego qua decentered other. Consciousness is of the order of the ego, since it thinks that it is the imaginary projection of itself outside of itself that does the thinking. But Lacan's point is precisely that the desiring is never such an external, objective pole, i.e. it thinks where it is not. This marks accordingly the foreclosure of all attempts to think of the subject of the unconscious as topic for "empirical" investigation. Through the re-elaboration of the Oedipal Myth, Lacan thus aims to show how the preponderance of those images gathered during the mirror-stage, and the severing wound enacted by the subject’s violent insertion into the symbolic order of language, underwrite the entire field of objective identifications, projections, and phantasmatic hallucinations-illusions that desire intends towards. It entails, in short, a Gestalt, conditioning the entire field of the visible world; the individuated world of things and persons actually presupposes the structure of the subject of desire. That is, insofar as the objectivity correlative to a subject is a function of how the latter becomes self-alienated and constituted by virtue of desiring. Lacan writes: "Indeed, for the imagos—whose veiled faces it is our privilege to see in outline in our daily experience and in the penumbra of symbolic efficacity—the mirror–image would seem to be the threshold of the visible world, if we go by the mirror disposition that the imago of one's own body presents in hallucinations or dreams, whether it concerns its individual features, or even its infirmities, or its object–projections; or if we observe the role of the mirror apparatus in the appearances of the double, in which psychical realities, however heterogeneous, are manifested." (E: pp. 3)
What is interesting about the formulation above is how it effectuates a commensuration between the images projected from the perspective of the subject's alienation, and the 'visible world' of things. It serves simultaneously thus as the germinal point of entry for both the epistemological myth of the consistency of a fully consistent subject or self, as well as for the ontological myth of a fully consistent object or other; that is, for both philosophy and (ego) psychology. It is crucial to notice how the imaginary serves to create a bridge between the ‘inner world’ of the subject (Innenwelt) and the objective externalized world of the visible (Umwelt), around the development of self-recognition and bodily-identification. In other words, the subject-object dichotomy, from which both philosophy and psychology depart, begins in the infant's (mis)identification and de-centering: the idea that one's being lacks any unified substantiality or 'selfhood' (the pure membra disjecta) emerges as a result of the identification with a subsistent image. Being is a house of mirrors. The organic insufficiency or lack which fuels desire is but the obverse of ideal unity, or as Lacan puts it: "the mirror stage is the drama whose internal thrust is precipitated from helplessness to anticipation." (E, pp. 4)
This means that the "threshold of visible externality" that structures the world of being results from the form-producing trajectory of subjective development. The deception is thus twofold: the subject comes to believe that it is equal to its decentered other, and in doing so it also believes that it is endowed with an ontologically consistent unity. As Lorenzo Chiesa puts it: "The ego not only, as it were, "finds itself" at the place of the other (the first misrecognition: the ego is alienated) but also provides the subject with a deceptive impression of unity (the second and most fundamental misrecognition: the ego does not recognize itself as alienated). According to Lacan, it is the ego that makes me accept as true that I am myself and that the other is the other." (Chiesa, 2009, pp. 16)
What Chiesa insists upon here is that if we are to take Lacan's logic to its extreme, then it's not simply that the subject misidentifies itself with an image different from that of others. Rather, it is precisely my identification with an other, with a decentered image, that allows for the misidentification of the subject with it-self, that is, with what Lacan calls the ego. In other words, it is my primary identification with an image that locates a gap between the reality of the subject as the agent of thought and as an object of thought, i.e. in identifying itself with the mirror-image, the subject objectifies itself as an ideal ego, which entails that the objectual is constitutively ideal or imaginary. This seems to be the meaning behind the cryptic statement from Lacan that the ego, in its narcissistic stupor, constitutes "a vital dehiscence that is constitutive of man" (E, pp. 4)
The next step, for us, is to explain how these imaginary functions are at the same time mediated by the cultural order of language. The symbolic brings about a ‘castrating function’ which throws the subject out of joint with its imaginary unity, and sets off the unending, impossible quest for its recuperation. Lacan refers to the order of language as the (big) Other, which signals that it constitutes a decentered place of identification, like the other of the imaginary, but also that it constitutes an impersonal field constituted by the community into which one is inserted. By tethering the subject of the unconscious to the symbolic Lacan means to say that language is in a sense a transcendent authority that ordains and issues the injunctions before which desire sets itself. Desire is the desire of the Other precisely insofar as it is mediated by an order of language which pre-exists and determines its organization. Or, put differently, one never desires immediately, but only through particular prescriptions and mediations issued from the impersonal order of language, on whose basis the subject intends towards anything whatsoever, in the phantasy for self-realization. Chiesa explains that "...the specular, alienating identification of the subject with the imaginary other necessarily presupposes an earlier, original - and perpetual- alienation in the Other qua language." (Chiesa, 2009, pp. 25)
The logical priority of the symbolic entails both that the self-identification of the subject with the imago occurs as the subject is inserted into language, and that the identification of others as others (both individuals and objects, persons and things) is conditioned by the linguistic order of the signifier, i.e. individuation is a function of language, and this articulates both the epistemic-psychological dimensions of self-understanding, as well as the ontological dimensions of understanding others and the world. Castration means at this juncture that a gap persists not just between the imaginary ideal ego and the subject, but between the latter and the Ego-Ideal of symbolic-imaginary prescriptions. The latter expresses the fact that, traversed by language, the ideality of the imaginary is also an impossible archetypical form which localized the subject's libidinal orientation. This structure is simultaneously that which provides thus the condition for consciousness as consciousness of something, and that which eludes the explicit 'aboutness' of such conscious intentionality, insofar as the phantasy of reconstitution remains precisely ideal, both an imaginary form and a symbolic injunction. Castration thus means that language enjoins the subject to rejoin, entailing its being as disjointed, that is, as directed towards an external pole which it can never become equal to: ($ <> a).
It is insofar that the subject constitutes its unconscious as a result of this alienating operation of 'symbolic castration' that it is not a mere myth to be allotted to the inventions of philosophers and psychologists alike: “what is not a myth, although Freud formulated it just as early on as he formulated the Oedipus myth, is the castration complex” (E; Pg. 695). This forms a necessary corrective the myths of subjective intentionality that located desire at the level of explicit consciousness, since for them "... it seemed that consciousness was inherent to what the subject had to say qua signification" (SV, pp. 105). But if the unconscious is structured like a language, then the intentionality of unconscious desire is also of the order of the signifier. Redoubling our earlier distinction between individual ego and subject, at the level of the symbolic we can map the distinction between the subject of the statement and the subject of enunciation. The former is expressly formulated in speech or writing, individuated by the inclusion into the symbolic order and grammatically objectivated within the sequences of signifiers and sentences that structure discourse. One therefore becomes constituted as the subject who speaks after the act of speech is taken to have been meaningfully articulated, i.e. identity emerges in a retroactive assignment of meaning to the sequentially deployed utterance of the subject who speaks. The subject of the enunciation, on the other hand, is the slippery index for the subject of the unconscious, which remains forever subtracted and incomplete from desire’s imaginary-symbolic operations, and from the statement. It is utterly meaningless, barren, bereft, barred, and void of quality. As Lacan puts it, the subject is split and never present to itself "...by virtue of being a subject only insofar as it speaks" (E, pp. 269). Or, in his startling reversal of Descartes: "I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think", i.e. the unconscious thinks and intends subtracted from the explicit forms making the Ego-Ideal. (Ibid, pp. 166)
However, the most important point we must underline here is that the subject of enunciation does not stand to the subject of the statement as signified stands to signifier, or represented to representing. Lacan is adamant to insist in that the individuating function of the big Other is not merely representationalist in the sense that it 'tracks down things' through words or signs; it refuses to be ontologised or positivized. This constitutes the kernel of Lacan's flattening of the Saussurian relation of signification as holding between signs and things, to one where signification obtains between signifiers exclusively: "The signifier doesn't just provide an envelope, a receptacle for signification. It polarizes it, it structures it, and brings it into existence." (S3, pp. 224) Or yet again: "The signifier is a sign that doesn't refer to any object... It is a sign which refers to another sign, which is as such structured to signify the absence of another sign, in other words, to be opposed to it in a couple." (Ibid, pp. 167) As a result, both subject and object are delivered to a structure of signification, void of any ontological status, and to relations between signifiers, void of epistemological status.
What I would like to suggest eventually is that it is not only the subject of the unconscious which becomes delivered from the empirical pretences of ego-psychology or transcendental philosophy into the order of language, but also the intended objects of consciousness which become delivered from the empirical pretences of metaphysicians and ontologists to the delirium of the signifier. As a result, the unconscious is crucially neither the subject, nor an object; it has no determinate ontological or epistemic status: "...what still becomes apparent to anyone in analysis who spends some time observing what truly belongs to the order of the unconscious, is that it is neither being, nor non-being, but the unrealized." (SXI, pp 30) As a result, the disjunction between psychoanalysis and philosophy is meant to be total since "the gap of the unconscious seems to be pre-ontological... it does not lend itself to ontology" (Ibid. 29) Does this leave open that something like the 'being of the world' may nonetheless subsist in the order of consciousness, along its much vaunted intentionality? For if indeed, as Lacan puts it, "the Freudian world isn't a world of things, it isn't a world of being, it is a world of desire as such", then couldn't the relation of knowing in which things, and not just words, come into mind, be said to subsist at some level? (S2, pp. 222)
I wish to defer this question for the moment, but to make a few preliminaries in the way. My preliminary contention is that insofar as the relation between words and things is flattened to the relation between signifiers, ontology might be said to subsist trivially at the price of subordinating it to the structure of desire. This weakens the ontological valence of 'beings' or 'being' to merely ideal poles for the phantasies of philosophers, which does not so much deny ontology as much as it suspends its purported prerogative when securing our access to the "world of being", understood as that of a mind independent reality. It thereby flattens the philosophical pretence of gaining traction before the world to the uniform register of an unconscious desire which, like every other, is supported in nothing else than in the signifying chain and its metonymic inscriptions. Yet this answer seems to preemptively defang ontology from its capacity to prey on the world, after which its peculiarity becomes a matter of organization at the level of signifier. In this regard, Badiou's reading of Lacan as an anti-philosopher stresses how, once demoted to one more discursive practice among others, psychoanalysis would carry out "a deposing of the category of philosophy to constitute itself as theory... philosophy is an act, of which the fabulations about 'truth' are the clothing, the propaganda, the lies." (Badiou, 2010, pp 75) I will later suggest why it is not clear, however, that psychoanalysis can legitimize itself as a theory without reactivating the kinds of distinctions it takes to be proper of philosophico-scientific discourse, and will proceed to ask what consequences follow for the formal coherence of psychoanalysis, as well as for its purported content. That is to say, we shall ask how psychoanalysis relates to its subject matter.
(b) The Castration Complex, the Loop of Desire and the Symbolic
If desire is articulated within the order of the signifier, then the symptom of the unconscious phantasy must be tethered to the imaginary-symbolic. The subject of the enunciation thus becomes readable and visible only within the symptomatic-metonymic elements deployed in the signifying chain, in an “...extinction that is still glowing and an opening that stumbles, I can come into being by disappearing from my statement" (E; Pg. 678). Thus, the psychoanalytic operation towards the unconscious is not one of digging for a pre-linguistic positive content hidden behind the signifying chain, which would constitute the ‘real subject’ after sublating and shedding off its feeble illusions. More subtly, it attempts to find within the signifying chain itself those symptomatic anomalies and ruptures which locate the subject’s unconsciously articulated desire, i.e. its metonymic points of torsion and articulation. Thus Lacan emphasizes the “…the radical role of metaphor and metonymy, substitution and combination of signifiers in synchronic and diachronic dimensions" (Ibid). Whereas the subject of knowledge is an illusion, the subject of the unconscious is not merely a myth: "the subject [of knowledge] correlative to the object, the subject around whom turns the eternal question of idealism, and who is himself an ideal subject...he is only supposed." (S6, L2, pp. 18). I will later suggest that the problematic of idealism is not entirely done away with by deflating the valence of knowledge. For now, let us see how Lacan maps the structure of the unconscious subject across the signifying chain:
The graph transparently presents two asymmetrical but synchronous trajectories: the parabola of the subject of enunciation (also called the subject of intention), and the signifying chain wherein the grammatical subject of the statement becomes expressed. At the base of both trajectories, we see the symbol ∆, which stands for the imaginary mythical subject of need, i.e. the posited notion of the child before the mirror-stage and the castration complex. It is interesting to note that since Lacan insists that individuation and selfhood proceeds from traversing the imaginary-symbolic orders, this pre-linguistic being can only be said to exist as a 'myth', for the developmental story to get off the ground. Whether this move is theoretically legitimate is a delicate point, which I believe requires that we confront some general aspects of Lacan's theory of individuation, which I do in the next section fully. For now, let us simply grant that this mythical subject is supposed to function as a 'base' in the trajectory of both lines.
Immediately above the trajectory of the subject of the enunciation we see the formation of the ‘spectral image’ or ideal ego, i(o), which corresponds to the imaginary other objectified during the 'mirror-image'. At the very end of this trajectory, we can see how this primitive ideality consolidates the Ego-Ideal, i.e. the prescribed identity issued from the intersection of the imaginary and the symbolic that addresses the statement to the desire of the other, within the order of language (I(O)). Thus Lacan claims that "every phantasy is articulated in terms of the subject speaking to the imaginary other." (SVI, L2, pp. 12) The intersection at (O) designates the "puncturing" insertion of the subject into the symbolic order (point de caption), the “big Other” of language from which there is a retroactive determination of the meaning of the signifying chain which composes statements. As such, the Otherness of language fixes the presumed identity of the speaking subject of the statement which constitutes an identity separated from the amorphousness of “the Voice”, the remainder at the end of this trajectory: "what he [the subject] is questioning himself about is far from being the response, it is the questioning;. It is effectively "what is this signifier of the Other in me?" (S6; L1; pp. 7).
This dual function of the (O) appears clearer once we understand that entering the symbolic proper entails that language structures one's capacities to act (the Law), as well as setting a standard for what is expected of the subject to become. This is why, strictly speaking, desire can only be of the Other, since it is always mediated and fixed retroactively in a puncturing carried out by the subject. It is to this meaning-endowing Other that speech is directed: “is what may be called the punctuation, in which signification ends as a finished product.” (E; Pg 682)
The insertion of the unconscious into the symbolic order does never, so to speak , 'reach out' onto things: "...the sign does not take its value with respect to a third thing that it represents, but it takes on its value with respect to another signifier which it is not." (Ibid; pp. 7) This is crucial, since what closes the statement is not finally some stable identification with a ‘real object’ of ostentation, as in Kripke’s theory of rigid designation, but only a transient signifier to which it tethers its imaginary semblances and figurations. Thus we have a retroactive determination from the linear vector of the signifying chain which goes from s(O) - (O), back into s(O), marking where meaning is assigned only after the subject indexes the closure of the statement: “The subject's submission to the signifier, which occurs in the circuit that goes from s(O) to O and back from O to s(O), is truly a circle, inasmuch as the assertion that is established in it—being unable to close on anything but its own scansion, in other words, failing an act in which it would find its certainty—refers back only to its own anticipation in the composition of the signifies which is in itself meaningless insignificante” (Ibid; Pg 683). The “treasure trove of signifiers” that organizes language forms a circular motion, where the signifying chain is punctured by the subject’s deliverance to the symbolic so as to constitute itself, while the latter retroactively fixes the meaning of the entire statement that makes it a statement of a subject. The identity of the subject of the statement it thus constituted retroactively, insofar as an otherwise barren chain of signifiers is punctured by the subject. This clarifies how desire needs to be objectivated and fixated in the external Otherness of language by becoming stapled to a (transient) signifier to stand for an object to endow with meaning the statement and so for the subject to allow for the possibility of recognition. The point is that this endless pursuit for meaning and identity masks the void of desire's repetition, and the latter's perpetual displacement across the signifying chain. The big Other's insatiable demand enroots the subject in desire as it wrests it from the bare need of the mythical, pre-linguistic subject: “Desire begins to take shape in the margin in which the demand rips away from need… A margin which, as linear as it may be, allows its vertiginous character to appear… it is this whimsy that introduces the phantom of Omnipotence- not of the subject, but of the Other in which the subject’s demand is instantiated.” (Ibid; 689)
This also explains Lacan’s famous proto-Hegelian claim alluded to earlier that “man’s desire is the Other’s desire… it is qua Other that man desires.” (Ibid) In other words, desire is always fixed and objectivated by anchoring the imaginary field of spectral images through the castrating externality of language, which marks for the subject a constitutive loss and therefore is experienced as an imperative for reconstitution and recognition. The desire of the subject will fix itself thus in the form of a demand from the Other’s desire, from the big Other which closes the signifying chain by blessing it with the seal of meaning: "what does the Other want from me?" (Ibid, 690-691) It is within the order of the signifier and to a signifier that desire is directed, and not outside of it towards a thing or being. This is what Lacan describes as "...man's capture in the components of the signifying chain." (Ibid, pp. 6) We must conclude, therefore, that language is, like Heidegger surmised, the house of being. But the house of language is also a house of mirrors, and one with no windows.
The final part of the parabola illustrates how, having traversed the defiles through the signifier, the conjunction of the symbolic and the imaginary once the subject has been affected by symbolic castration, projecting his ideal unity in the form of the Ego-Ideal: I(O). That is, the self-image constituted by the interpellation of the Other’s desire. The space of the Ego-Ideal is thus the end of the trajectory of the subject of the enunciation in coincidence to how the amorphous Voice is the end of the subject of the statement. Once again, there is a retroactive effectuation in order, where the subject determines not just the object which will have been meant in the statement, but also the subject “he will have been” (Ibid): “This trajectory which ends in the [ego-ideal] is a retroversion effect by which the subject, at each stage, becomes what he was (to be) [etait] before that, and "he will have been" is only announced in the future perfect tense.” [E; Pg. 684] Desire effectuates both the metonymic insertion of being in the subject, and that of the subject in being; it alienates the subject into the other, while the object of desire, ever impossible, becomes like the subject in failing to become a stable identity itself: "Desire is the metonymy of being in the subject; the phallus [qua object of desire] is the metonymy of the subject in being." (SVI, L1, pp. 15)
At the base of the parabolic trajectory, disconnected from the subject of need and the sequence of the movement, we have the barred-subject $, which stands for the formal void of a severed ground. This is a sign that is not part of the statement, but rather a disjoined signifier for the unconscious. Since there is no substantive content proper to the barred subject, no statement which predicates its 'proper being', Lacan consistently claims that there is no Other of the Other: that there is no subject to be captured ‘outside’ of the Otherness of language or, what amounts to the same, that “…there is no metalanguage.” (E, 688) Put differently, one never "reaches out" outside of language, either directly onto an other subject, or, what amounts to the same, to being as an object, since "...what characterizes the demand is not just that it is a relationship of a subject to another subject [or between a subject and an object], it is that this relationship is made through the mediation of language, through the mediation of a system of signifiers." (SVI, L3, pp. 27) The movement of the Real occurs by and through the order of the signifier, not as a foreign transcendence. The primitive individuation of the imaginary realm, which as we saw constitutes the entire field of the visible, traverses the order of the signifier constituting the vain phantasy to regain the impossible object which would endow its void with an integral consistency.
(c) The Cunning of Being or the Being of Cunning?
If the subject of the unconscious is indeed structured like a language, and desire is nothing but the articulation between signifiers, then the much vaunted Freudian 'world of desire' is an ideal world populated by phantasms; not a world as much as the height of narcissistic alienation, the nightmare which is nothing but a dream come true. At this point we should ask again: does this mean that even if the relation of knowing between words and things does not hold good for the structure of the unconscious, it might nevertheless be thinkable within the realm of consciousness?
In this stronger formulation, I believe that our question must be answered to in the negative. For it is clear that the "Freudian world" isn't just another world which, in dualist metaphysical spirits, would neatly leave the innocence of the world of knowing to its own operations, untouched. Indeed, Lacan is adamant to show not only that the world of desire is not the world of things, but that the unconscious conditions the operations of consciousness and seals its every pretence within the economy of desire: "Relations between human beings are really established before one gets to the domain of consciousness. It is desire which achieves the primitive structuration of the human world, desire as unconscious." (S2, pp. 224) More dramatically still, it's precisely desire's undermining of consciousness that makes the explicit conscious claims to the universal of being subordinate to the unconscious singularity of the symptom, or as Lacan reminds us: "...don't forget that consciousness isn't universal." (Ibid). If this is so, then the valence of the ontological independence of the 'realm of things' could at best be an epiphenomenal illusion, a veil under which the iterations of desire and the symptom displace themselves in the order of the signifier. In fact, Lacan explicitly subordinates the object of knowledge to the object of desire, and claims that in the vector leading from the barred subject to its decentered other, the small impossible object of desire, one finds the (illusion) of knowledge: "$ in the presence of o and which we call the phantasy, which in the psychic economy represents something that you know." (Ibid, pp 214). This is why it is, paradoxically, desire that is the metonymy of being in the subject, insofar as it is through the self-alienating insertion into the impersonal Other of language that the subject releases its intentionality through linguistic mediation, and not from the realm of "Being" that offers itself 'as a gift' to immediate experience, as in the phenomenological Myth of the Given (to use Sellars' phrase). What philosophers reify as knowledge is in truth the knowledge of the Other, insofar as it is attributed to the subject as individuated in the impersonal symbolic order: ""What is it that knows?" Do we realize that it is the Other?... as a locus in which the signifier is posited, as without which nothing indicates to us that there is a dimension of truth anywhere, a di-mension, the residence of what is said, of this said whose knowledge posits the Other as locus." (SXX, pp. 96)
The philosophical questioning that aims at knowledge is thus to be understood as the subject's depositing of his speech within the punctuation of the symbolic, rather than the Real. The power of the question brings us closer not to a palpitating realm behind the order of the signifier, but only to the demand issued from within this order; it must subordinate its positivity to it, and find itself always-already lost in it. For the subject, "what he is questioning himself about is far from being the response, it is the questioning. It is effectively 'What is this signifier of the Other in me?" (S1, L9, pp. 132). By fixating itself into the order of the signifier, ruminating in search for the impossible lost object, the quest for self proves, ironically, an inversion of the philosophical genealogy of thought, a predecessor of the quest for being as such: "... the bar is the hidden signifier, the one that the Other does not have at its disposition, and which is precisely the one which concerns you: it is the same one that makes you enter the game in so far as you, poor simpletons, since you were born, were caught up in this sacred logos business." (Ibid; L16, pp. 207). And indeed it is telling that the quest for being should be of no concern for the psychoanalyst, but that he rather makes of desire that which deserves to be called "the essence of man", signaling its logical, if not chronological, priority (S6, L1, pp 4).
However, this predicament forces Lacan into a quandary. For if the subject of knowledge is indeed subordinate to the unconscious, and if the relation between signifier and signified is flattened to the chains in the former, how are we to understand what for Lacan, indeed for psychoanalysis, must be a theory of desire? That is, how can Lacanian psychoanalysis, in erecting its formidable conceptual structure, proclaim to give a structured theory and not just constitute an improvised practice, i.e. how is it to become a discourse in which the structural features of desire are outlined and articulated? For if there is no relation between words and things, then what relation do the theoretical statements formulated in psychoanalysis purportedly bear to its presumed subject matter? What is the role of the peculiar signifier "desire" in the economy of psychoanalysis, if there is, strictly speaking, nothing 'out there' to be spoken of, no 'thing' populating the world which can escape the latency of the phantasy? And similarly for 'unconscious', 'signifier', "subject", and the entire roster of concepts that psychoanalysis deploys continuously, when claiming to explain the generality of desire as a structure, and not just as manifesting one more iteration of desire as a symptom, like every other.
Preemptively, one might answer that indeed because psychoanalysis elides the referential relation it is never trying to 'reach out' onto things or to give an ontology, peeking behind the words, but is rather consigned to survey the latent content in which the signifying chain becomes deployed and used. Thereby, the analyst is not a knower, claiming to access the 'things behind the appearances', since that would performatively contradict the purported demotion of epistemology/psychology and philosophy, but is rather concerned with the reality of appearances only, with how they find their place within the structure of signification as such.
But this is simply to inflect the issue into the order of language. For if psychoanalysis is not just one more phantasy in search for its own impossible object, then this is because what Lacan is effectively doing is not simply speaking to us qua analysands, addressing the particularity of our (paradoxically) universal symptom, but rather outlining the general structure of desire. In other words, the statements issued by psychoanalysis allegedly pertain not just to one more discourse in the same footing before desire as all others, but must rather allow us to gain traction before desire as such. If not, then the artifice of psychoanalytic claims would do nothing but make the signifier "desire" its very own symptom, its own localization of the impossible object, in a hysteric attempt to wage against the organization of the purported hegemony of philosophers and psychologists. Yet, in this case, psychoanalytic theory thereby elides its own position of enunciation, with the nefarious result that the discourse of the master and that of the analyst would seem to conflate through the operations of a kind of University discourse directed against itself. If Lacan is indeed an anti-philosopher, it is insofar as in waging war against the ontological phantasy, he thus nevertheless remains within its confines; where the masterdom of the University and knowledge, indeed of being, is being subverted in the name of the psychoanalytic theoretical statements itself. It is crucial to note that this theoretical operation is external to the clinical practice of the discourse of the analyst, and also that it conditions the thought of the separation of the analyst discourse from the other three. For what could the deliberate intent to subvert the 'dominating discourse' that symptomatically evinces an instance of phantasy in analysis mean for someone who is addressing the psychoanalytic community itself? From which position of enunciation could the theoretical statements of psychoanalysis be issued from, if it is neither a form of the presumed neutrality of objective knowledge proper to University discourse, but neither an instance for the discourse of the analyst? What could psychoanalysis claim to be doing if, as Lacan has repeatedly insisted, there is no meta-language, and if "there is no Other of the Other? In other words, for the subject of traditional philosophy, this subject subjectivises itself indefinitely. There is not in the Other, any signifier which is able on this occasion to answer for what I am." (Ibid; L16, pp. 206)
If the signifier that stands for the subject of the unconscious, the psycho-biological development story of the castration complex, or the figurations of desire in the form of graphs, are to count as theoretical at all, then it seems that Lacan must rehabilitate the distinction between signifier and signified that he had sworn to abjure. But in doing so, psychoanalysis would need to reactivate the valence of knowing, indeed of the subject of knowledge, in making the latter track down and express the structure of desire as such. As we saw above, this is precisely what was taken to be impossible: desire trumps knowledge, the latter is only the envelope of the former. And indeed, if knowledge of desire can be obtained or localized from the vantage point of psychoanalytic theory, there seems nothing to keep the philosopher from claiming that what Lacan is doing is effectively ontologizing desire and thus the subject of the unconscious as the libidinal variant of the realm of appearances, and that therefore Lacan has merely supplanted philosophy and psychology with its own prescriptive ideational framework, apt for empirical investigation, i.e. the realm of the unconscious that is "structured like a language".
Indeed, Lacan himself seems to have been aware of this crucial paradox within his theoretical register from very early on. In what I take to be a decisive statement, Lacan claims with regards to the conceptual status of the psychoanalytic theoretical endeavor: "There is a fundamental ambiguity in the use we make of the word 'desire'. Sometimes we objectify it- and we have to do so, if only to talk about it. On the contrary sometimes we locate it as the primitive term, in relation to any objectification." (S2, pp. 225) This ambiguity is not trivial whatsoever. For if desire must be objectified in order to be spoken about, in what sense is it any different than any of the other terms that philosophers or scientists purportedly use to describe phenomena of all kinds, desire included? How are we to understand the claim that desire is simultaneously of the order of signifier and that which conditions any objectification whatsoever? How can a signifier stand for the barred subject $, disjoined from the signifying chain in the Otherness of language? This problem is particularly acute, since Lacan insists that desire cannot be ontologised. But then what is it that psychoanalytic theory is doing when they 'objectify' desire "if only to speak of it"? How could such an act constitute anything but an ontological valence? Yet to claim that desire is not just a signifier, but rather the enabling condition for signification and objectivation, is once again to reactivate the relation between signifier and signified, only this time in terms of desire as real precondition for objects understood as linguistically individuated posits. This would be to covertly ontologise desire as an Aristotelian 'first mover', as the 'ground of being', as Ineffable Being stripped even of the honor of the name. Correspondingly, this makes utterly indeterminate how the posterior objectification of desire in words relates to desire as a precondition for this objectification.
At this juncture, neither option will work: if Lacan claims that the objectification of desire relates to the pre-objectified desire, then he has reactivated the referential relation between signifier and signified, sign and referent, in the dichotomy between objectual desire-for-us and unobjectifiable desire-in-itself. This surrenders Lacan to a bizarre, libidinal paradox of Kantianism (which is after all how Lacan always read Kant anyway). But to do that he must once again rehabilitate not just the ontological valence of desire as such, but the epistemological valence of the relation between desire's objectification in language and the depths of the desire that it bridges us to in the act of theorizing it, that is, in the making of claims about it. It is impossible to understand Lacan's claim that desire is a 'precondition' for its objectification unless one reenacts this philosophical cunning of the original psychoanalytic coup against philosophy and science.
Alternatively, Lacan can say that the objectification in question needs of no such relation, and consistently maintain that the signifier "desire" is, like every other, merely in relation to other signifiers, but never aiming towards anything like an ontologically generative 'in-itself'. Thus the terms of psychoanalysis would escape the faith of standing as signifiers for signifieds, and so avoid tacitly playing the role of a 'meta-language'. Indeed, this is what at some point Lacan himself seems to want to claim when he says that "Desire emerges just as it becomes embodied in speech, it emerges with symbolism." (SII, pp. 234). In this reading, the original ambiguity is resolved in favor of a pure objectification of something which, strictly speaking, does not preexist the act of objectification itself.
Nevertheless, without distinguishing how the signifiers making up theoretical statements fulfill this role without becoming one more instance of the University discourse, but neither falling into the other three forms of discourse, this route ultimately undermines the theoretical status of psychoanalysis. The purported connection to the phenomenon of desire becomes in principle proscribed, and deprives itself of any authority when describing the subordination of knowledge to desire in theoretical terms. For there could be no categorical distinction between those signifiers that will play the role of mere signifiers in their discursive operation according to the four forms, and those of psychoanalytic theory which may unravel their conditions of possibility, lest we return to the philosophical vocation, or occupy the once again the position of the University discourse by prescribing a kind of knowledge.
And yet, to attempt such a foreclosing act, to shun the danger of the 'Great outdoors' by claiming that desire as such is intractable to any kind of objectification, effectively undermines itself as a gesture. This is because if psychoanalysis cannot validate itself as a theory, neither can the structure of desire it purportedly formalizes and describes as being 'outside all objectifying description' be used to undermine itself in relation to other theories and discourses in general. In other words, psychoanalysis couldn't even surrender its rights to desire without already having 'spoken that which can't be spoken', that is, without already assuming a theoretical position claiming to know of desire as an asymptotic horizon which forecloses all theorizing. The result is a fundamental paradox whereby psychoanalysis ceases to be a theory because the exigencies of desire undermine it, and where desire ceases to be the structural phenomenon psychoanalysis describes because the latter is not a theory.
Two scenarios appear possible at his point, as the necessary correctives to psychoanalytic theory. Yet, we shall see, that the ambiguity of desire as a term and as a condition is ultimately irresolvable. Lacan claimed to have superseded the pretences of philosophy but in turn seems to be forced into the choice between a variant of transcendental idealism and sophistry. The former scenario has itself two possibilities: a) a kind of negative-theological epistemic understanding of the foreclosure of Real desire as that which resists objectification and meaning, and b) a variety of textual idealism where desire is immanent to the signifier, while admitting of a typology of signifiers. Let us assess each of these .
First, a possible answer is to leave it open that psychoanalysis may gain traction with respect to desire, via the objectification of the signifier. That is, the signifier might grant restricted access to desire as an unknowable, unobjectifiable, but nevertheless thinkable condition of possibility for signification (a variety of 'weak correlationism'). Under this light, Lacan's account of desire as Real precondition begins to startlingly resemble the minimal realism of Heidegger, for whom the opaqueness of the Earth qua unobjectifiable being stands as necessarily refractory to the variegated structure of world, with its populated entities and individuations at the ontic level. Real desire would be the proto-ontological motor conditioning, ironically, the merely ontic register of being and the symbolic investment of symptoms. The early Lacan seems to indicate this much when he claims in a rather cryptic passage: "Desire... is the desire for nothing namable... this desire lies at the origin of every variety of animation. If being were only what it is there wouldn't be room to talk about it. Being comes into existence as an exact function of this lack." (SII, pp 223). This is the direction in which the later Lacan, through his idea of the Real as that which resists symbolization, seems to have succumbed, as we shall see below.
Alternatively, in this first re-philosophizing scenario, the structure of desire remains epistemically accessible without residue, but confined to the signifying order, in which case Lacan is involved in a bizarre structuralist parody of textual idealism. Yet as we surmised above, this cannot be done, strictly speaking, without a qualitative distinction that vitiates the structural uniformity of the signifier. In other words, it requires a qualitative distinction within the order of the signifier, a typology that sets those signs which map the structure of desire from those which are merely within the libidinal commerce of phantasy, and so those which are subordinated to the former. Both options in this scenario rehabilitate the philosophical spooks that Lacan took to have demoted, at the price of reactivating the possibility of a special kind of reference or relation between signifiers, apart from the articulation of the four discourses and with it having the status of a 'meta-language' assigned to save psychoanalytic theory from itself.
The second alternative, foreclosing the explanatory purchase on desire, and leaving exteriority unthinkable, shuns the status of psychoanalysis as a theory and surrenders it to a sophistic endeavor marking its internal contradiction (a variety of strong correlationism). This is the tragedy that we surmised above, when showing that psychoanalysis couldn't even surrender its rights to knowledge. For in this scenario, the Lacanian edifice ends up effectively undermining itself, rendering the conceptual endeavor it pursues into utter incoherence, the knowledge of desire undermining its theorization, and the theorization of desire undermining the possibility of knowledge of it.
As we suggested above, however, Lacan seems to have progressively realized that he couldn't do without explaining how a theory of desire relies on such a conceptual envelopment, as evinced in a particularly telling passage: "[Our] conception of the concept implies that the concept is always established in an approach that is not unrelated to that which is imposed on us, as a form, by infinitesimal calculus. Indeed, if the concept is modeled on an approach to the reality that the concept has been created to apprehend, it is only by a leap a passage to the limit, that it manages to realize itself. We are then required to say in what respect- under what form of finite quantity, I would say- the conceptual elaboration known as the unconscious may be carried out." (SXI: pp. 19)
Yet at this point, signaling both the beginning of a mathematical obsession and that of a poetic escape, Lacan begins to opt for the first horn of the dilemma and to surrender psychoanalysis to what appears under all lights to be a re-philosophizing of its fundamental task, along with the valence of knowing. A passion for the purity of formalization and the inscription, which begins the sliding down the notion that the matheme is closest to the Real, being sutured itself to nothing but a void. This void that, to be sure, although not named "Being" for Lacan, has been nothing but the proper name of Being for dialectical philosophers for a long time. The nothingness of the Real thus becomes an absolute abstraction, like Hegel claimed apropos Being, which is, in itself, indistinguishable from Nothing, that is, from non-being. The matheme becomes the receptacle of a pure transmission, insofar as formalization subtracts the symbol from its conceptual envelopment, prizing it free from any semblance of meaning or intention. This is why the matheme, indexes, for Lacan, how: "The mathematical formalization of signifierness runs counter to meaning." (SXX, pp. 93) What formalization enables is not a representation of desire and so of a knowledge about the Real, but rather an experience or 'act' with respect the Real, a possibility for transference: "Truth cannot convince, knowledge becomes act" (Ibid; Pg. 104).
But since the matheme is closest to the Real insofar as it formalizes while symbolizing nothing, this Real becomes that which cannot be positivized in a representation. The Real subtracts itself from all positive content, it is delivered only to the pure act of transmission, the transference of something which opens the promise for the traversal of the phantasy. Just like the subject, there can be thus no theoretical knowledge of the Real: the latter cannot be totalized or unified, and therefore it cannot be qualitatively determined so as to be tractable conceptually: "If there is a notion of the real, it is extremely complex and, because of this, incomprehensible, it cannot be comprehended in a way that would make an All out of it." Accordingly, the object-cause of desire as a Real is thought through the formalization of a vanishing object, non-identical to itself, always alienating the subject from the place of enunciation. This is why the phallus, as the mask hiding the displacement of the object, constitutes the metonymy of the subject in being: the object of desire is 'subjectivized' insofar as it refuses to ever coincide with the phallic semblances under which it appears or is formulated. This 'becoming subject of substance', to speak Hegelese, is what makes the meaningless formalism 'nearest' to the Real object and so to the unconscious desire. This object-cause of desire is then necessarily also a "non-object" insofar as it resists the effects of the symbolization that envelops it in contingent demands, constituting the non-being that appears under the semblance of being: "Being on the right path [leading from the symbolic to the Real], overall, [object a], would have us take it for being, in the name of the following - that it is apparently something. But it only dissolves, in the final analysis, owing to its failure, unable, as it is, to sustain itself in approaching the real." (SXX, pp. 95)
But if this is the case, then the Real becomes the obverse of castration, the stain of a remainder that propels desire and before which nothing but a pure matheme, void of referential pretence, can stand before in its formal opaqueness. And it is here that the unobjectifiable Real of the act of transference is construed by a tacit separation from the matheme that ordains it, evincing a division that psychoanalysis ultimately cannot resolve. Much like for Heidegger Being qua the unobjectifiable opaqueness of the Earth cannot be apprehended conceptually but must be delivered to the poetic word of the thinker and the act of the artist, the Real qua unobjectifiable opaqueness of desire cannot be known but must be delivered to the matheme and the transference occasioned by the analyst. As Lacan puts it: "Mathematization alone reaches a real - and it is in that respect that it is compatible with our discourse, with analytic discourse- a real that has nothing to do with what traditional knowledge has served as a basis for, which is not what the latter believes it to be- namely, reality, but rather phantasy... The Real, I will say, is the mystery of the speaking body, the mystery of the unconscious." (SXX; pp. 131)
However, the call for the bodily act signals also the inevitable moment of loss for explanation, the moment in which, no longer capable of separating the thought of the Real from the Real itself, one must surrender all theoretical pretences and en-act the traversal itself, a clinical pilgrimage before the inflections of the symptom through the lessons of formalization. The discursive access to knowing-that becomes delivered to the oblique efficacy of non-discursive know-how. This is how we should coordinate these two seemingly disparate statements from Lacan: "There is some rapport of being that cannot be known" (SXX, pp. 119, TM), and "If analysis rests on a presumption, it is that knowledge about [subjective] truth can be constituted on the basis of its experience" (Ibid, pp. 91). The impossibility of a knowledge of being is but the obverse of the possibility of knowing how to speak in bringing about the transference. Or as Badiou formulates it: "The paradoxical position of Lacan concerning truth is that there is no knowledge of truth, but finally there is a psychoanalytic knowledge concerning this absence of knowledge. This is the great paradox of the unconscious...a subject can have an experience of its proper Real only in the form of an act." (Badiou, 2010)
The analytic transference is nothing but the allowance of the Real traversal supported by nothing but the formalization of the matheme: "It is in the very act of speaking that make this formalization, this ideal meta-language, ex-sist. It is in this respect that the symbolic cannot be confused with being- far from it. Rather, it exists qua ex-sistance with respect to the act of speaking." (SXX, Ibid; pp 119) This separation is finally that between the pure form of the mathematic inscription, recalcitrant to incorporation within the symbolic order of language, and the passage to the pure act that deposes all representational knowledge, and where analytic transference for the traversal of the phantasy takes place. As Badiou stresses: "This act is like a cut in language and also a cut in the ordinary representation of the world- a representation which is imaginary. So the act suddenly isolates the Real from its normal collection to the imaginary and symbolic orders." (Badiou, 2010).
And yet we must insist, that for all its purported deflection of knowing-that, the abyss that separates the voided matheme, suspended from the Real act and from the symbolic rule of the signifier, merely reproduces the dyad of signifier/signified in the dichotomy between theoretical inscription and practical transmission. That is, Lacan reproduces the problem between thought and reality that he takes to be emblematic of the philosophical forms of 'knowing' in the tacit distinction between the formal ideography of the matheme in its presentation, and the singular act of speech in which transference finally takes place. For Lacan cannot conflate the speciousness of the formulaic writing of the matheme with the act of speech through which the subject traverses the phantasy. That this distinction is ultimately unexplainable, that the connection between the Real qua formalized matheme and the Real qua act cannot be articulated, signals the gulf of psychoanalytic thought, delivered as it is, both to the requirement to forego knowledge, and yet also to embody it as it tries to give a theory of this process. This separation ultimately makes the status of the Real undecidable, or fatally ambiguous, i.e. playing the role of a pure inscription without exteriority (the Real of the matheme as formalization), or a pure exteriority without symbolization (the Real is that which resists symbolization). With the Real subtracted from the traction of knowing, it becomes a noumenal phantasm suspended between the void of an empty formalism, or a mystical surrender to the ineffable Otherness that animates the act. Crucially, the unexplained distinction between the reality of formalization and that of the act must be supported in the theoretical identification that psychoanalysis carries vis a vis both the writing matheme and the act of speech, as the meta-discursive gesture that short-circuits the two in the name of the Real.
And so one notes also, alongside the obliqueness of the matheme, a desperation against the threat of the "dialectic" and a helplessness evinced toward the poetic rumination, thinking from a distance the untouchable purity of an Otherness so unblemished that it does nothing but subtract itself from the signifier and its operations. Such is the sliding down to the identification of the Real with that which is ultimately beyond all capacity for individuation, rendering the conditioning of the Real of desire excised from its pseudo-objectifications. Unfortunately then, the question about the legitimacy of desire as a suitable structure to explain to ontogenesis of thought and being, returns into the market of theories negotiating an unnamable void for their founding gesture. Perhaps this is why Lacan struggles, refusing to fully embrace the prospect of ontologizing the unconscious and desire, to the point of reverting into the desperation of sophism: "the gap of the unconscious is pre-ontological... it is neither being nor non-being, but the unrealized." (SXI: pp. 29) It is not only the structure of unconscious desire that is beyond recalcitrant to ontology: the object of desire itself is, paradoxically, unobjectifiable insofar as it remains impossible, non-self identical, never coincident with a being with fixed qualities and properties. This indicates another level of the fundamental coincide of the non-symbolic inscription of the object, and the object itself. This is because objet a is both resolutely material (it is localized) and a formal index signaling that which is never localizable, but which functions as an impasse for meaning, and so which indexes the asymptotic horizon of the subject's intentional desire. This is why the object of desire is neither being (it resists objectification or self-identity, thus enacting the infinity of desire) nor non-being (it must nevertheless be indexed as impossible object cause, 'if only to speak of it', as that which consists as inconsistent, subtracting itself from the signifying chain). The Real object can only be Real insofar as it is also, and paradoxically, a 'non-object', that is, insofar as it is on the side of the formal stringency of the matheme and not of the symbolic-imaginary operations of the signifier. Only the pure matheme approaches it in its barren formalism by ordaining it to the act of analytic transference facilitating the traversal of the phantasy.
We must understand thus that the object cause of desire, qua non-object, is also the mark of the subject qua non-individual; the gap between itself as conscious (pseudo)-signified being and itself as unconscious signifier is the gap between the (pseudo) consistency of the individual, and the void of the subject as well. The void of the subject, tethered to the illusion of the metonymy of the phallus, is what subtracts itself perpetually from the Oneness of the individual, in which the subject objectifies itself by having a signifier stand for it. As Chiesa puts it: "During the process of subjectivisation three different ontological ‘levels’ of the multiple emerge retroactively: the inconsistent undead real as not-one; the consistent multiplicity given by the metonymic slide of the objects of demand (marked as letters); the subject as split between conscious signified and unconscious signifier." (Chiesa, 2012, forthcoming).
As a result, the semblance of the object of the demand in virtue of which 'there is Oneness' constitutes the intentionality of the subject towards an impossible Real that always eludes its unifying operation. It is this Real that is designated by the formal opaqueness of the matheme: "[Objet a] would have us take it for being, in the name of the following- that it is apparently something. But it only dissolves, in the final analysis, owing to its failure, unable, as it is, to sustain itself in approaching the real." (SXX: Pg. 95) The Real of the matheme is therefore non-objective, since it underlies the symbolic metonymy of signifiers that makes up the phantasy, which is why the analytic transference that ordains the traversal can't ever be a matter of knowing or teaching something to the subject, making it explicit to consciousness, but of intervening in order to displace the formal localization of the symptom within the unconscious phantasy. The Real as act is supported thus by the formalization that the matheme, uniquely, subtracts from the symbolic and the specificity of the demand.
Yet, it must be said, the split between form and content remains ineludible, and the opaque symbol that embodies the matheme merely formalizes the possibility of a transmission of a Real thereby delegated to the act. For Lacan cannot mean that the matheme qua inscription is identical to the act that transmits in virtue of it, without thereby dissolving the generality of the theoretical practice with the specificity of the clinical practice. But in order to separate the two he must be able to explain how the act itself conforms to the formality of the matheme; without clarifying what this relation consists in, the claim that "knowledge becomes act" is itself unintelligible.
We hear echoes of Heidegger's attempts to reconcile himself with his own theory, trying to save the Great Outdoors from the clutches of Dasein's world-producing prerogative (claiming animals have and do not have worlds by saying they are 'poor in them', for instance). Lacan, scavenging for the Real, this being without the honor of the name, urges the separation between psychoanalysis and philosophy, much like for Heidegger the poetic thought could only free itself by separating itself from the loudness of metaphysics. A scission, to be sure, appears as the uncompromising desire for desire, stubbornly clinging to its own impossible object, its own unrequited passion. For the Real does not speak, after all, putting an end to the disguised epistolary confession of the philosopher and the scientist, as well as the analysand. Is this not where the tormented psychoanalyst geared towards the interruption of the symptom by the act and the matheme, and the disillusioned provincialism of the poetic philosopher traversing metaphysics through poetry meet again: in the desire for silence?
Ultimately, the Real anchor of desire and its object, this 'indivisible remainder', does not absolve Lacan from the faith of the philosophical dictum, but rather delivers him back into what Badiou has called 'the effects of skepticism': "The effects of this kind of frenzied upsurge, in which the real rules over the comedy of our symptoms, are ultimately indiscernible from those of skepticism." (LOW: Pg. 563) And indeed, I think Badiou is correct here: Lacan's cryptic statement from 1977 that "truth can only concern the Real" is perhaps the point of the unique symptom, the torsion where, suspended between the choice between being and nothingness, Lacan nods for the all-too-familiar philosophical maneuver, and proceeds to identify them. The sliding void of the object names the passion for the unnamable stain that, repudiating the stringency of the symbolic demand, refuses to extirpate itself from thought, however elusive to its feeble touch. The Real nothingness of Being, and so philosophy, appears now as the stain for psychoanalysis, refusing to let the words come to an end. That is, without ever traversing its own fantasy, absolving the tormented analyst from his own confessional delirium.
· Badiou, Alain. Logics of Worlds translated by Alberto Toscano, Continuum Press, 2006.
· Badiou, Alain. What is Love?, translated by Sam Gillespie, Semiotexte, 1999.
· Badiou Alain, The Scene of the Two, translated by Barbara P. Fulks, Lacanian Ink, issue 21, 2009.
· Lacan, Jacques, Seminar XX: Encore, translated by Bruce Fink, Norton Press, 1999.
· Lacan, Jacques, Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, translated by Bruce Fink, Norton Press, 1998.
· Lacan, Jacques, Seminar II: The Ego in Freud's Theory and Technique of Psychoanalysis, Jacques-Alain Miller, Norton, 1991.
· Lacan, Jacques, Seminar III: The Psychoses, Jacques-Alain Miller, Norton 1998.
· Lacan, Jacques, Seminar VI: Desire and Its Interpretation, translated by Cormac Gallagher, , 2009.
· Lacan, Jacques, Ecrits, translated by Bruce Fink, Norton Press, 2007.
· Chiesa, Lorenzo, Subjectivity and Otherness: a Philosophical Reading of Lacan, MIT Press, 2007.
· Chiesa, Lorenzo, How To Make One Out of a Multiple?, 2012, forthcoming.
· Žižek, Slavoj, The Parallax View, Verso Books, 2006.
· Žižek, Slavoj, Tarrying With the Negative, Verso Books, 1993.
· Žižek, Slavoj, The Sublime Object of Ideology, Verso Books, 1997.
· Žižek, Slavoj, Woman is One of the Names-of-the-Father, Lacanian Ink 10, 1995.
· Johnston, Adrian, Žižek's Ontology: A Transcendental Theory of Subjectivity, Northwestern University Press, 2008.
Index of Abbreviations
E = Ecrits
SII: Seminar II
SIII: Seminar III
SVI: Seminar VI
SXX: Seminar XX
SXI: Seminar XI
Analyst <> ($ <> a)
$ <> a
 1. Lacan, Jacques, The Seminar, Book XX: Encore, On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge, NY: Norton, 1998, p 48.
 Lacan, Jacques, Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English, NY: Norton, 1998, p 48
 See for instance Lorenzo Chiesa's (2009) extraordinary systematic reconstruction.
 Lacan develops how the formative process of the mirror-stage consists of a ‘temporal dialectic’ which t races a line from insufficiency to anticipation, from need to desire; an ‘orthopaedic’ development. (E: Pg. 692)
 This explains Jacques -Alain Miller's formulation apropos Lacan's teachings during 1955 under the title "From the small to the big Other", which also marks Lacan's more pronounced reworking with the structuralist tradition in linguistics, and thus with the problematic of language in general.
 It is clear that, at least in the 1950's, Lacan's concept of the unconscious is deeply influence by the Hegelian-Kojevian notion of desire as the desire of recognition of the other.
 I present the graph of desire in its second form, since it should suffice at that stage for our present purposes For these graphs see (SVI, L1, pp. 7, 12; E, pp. 681-688)
 Slavoj Zizek has famously proposed to read this operation of retroactive determination along the lines of Kripke’s account of rigid designation; where the point of caption where the subject pierces the big Other fixes a referent for the signifying statement like a rigid designator. For the details see Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, Chapter III, Pg 206.
 Indeed, the word "ontology" is not mentioned once in Seminar VI.
 See Appendix I for an illustration
 Roughly, from Seminar XI onwards.
 Even if we agree with Badiou that psychoanalysis is indeed closer to politics in seeking the singularity of the individual symptom rather than the repetition of the scientific thought, it must be stressed that, irrespective of the clinical practice, the theoretical endeavor carried out by psychoanalytic thought cannot but be subject to the norms of conceptual consistency which binds scientific thought. If this is the case, then the way that psychoanalysis shields itself against the dogmatism of embracing alienation in the signifier to its fullest extent would not be to simply listen to the 'affirmative' vocation of political thought, but also to the scientific vocation for what renders its theoretical posits possible, i.e. formal coherency of its ideography.
 Lacan, J., Le triomphe de la religion, précedé du Discours aux catholiques, Paris: Seuil 2005, p. 96, 97.
 In this regard, I would emphasize that, in spite of Badiou's commendable attempts to characterize psychoanalysis as a candidate for thinking but perhaps not a science, where the latter term is understood as "the unity of a theory and a practice", does not help solve the issue. This can be easily seen if we realize that the incapacity to separate theory and practice is not something we can straightforwardly allot to science; even if psychoanalysis is thought as closer to politics, the question about the relation between the statements of such a thought and the thing itself remains. To stipulate an absolute inseparability between thought and world is to surrender to idealism; to claim such a distinction is possible is to rehabilitate the valence of knowing within a philosophical thought. I believe, for reasons that Ray Brassier has pointed out, following Wilfrid Sellars, that the methodological separation between the space of reasons and the space of causes is the condition of possibility for the ontological unity between thought and being, reason and nature. The consequence, against Badiou's depiction, is not a thinking of the articulation between a theory and a praxis, but rather how such an articulation is to be understood as that between world that is not thought and thought that thinks the world.