Toward the end of today’s meeting for Lacan’s Seminar X, Anxiety, Levi Bryant suggested we discuss the “mystery in the text: Lacan tells us that anxiety is not without an object.”


The trouble, of course, is trying to figure out what or locate where the object is.

This is similar to asking “where is the lack lacking,” but not the same thing. I’m not comfortable making a clean equation between objet a (the object-cause of desire) and lack, as Lacan, in Seminar XVII, also designates object a as a surplus/remainder. Or am I? I suppose the presence of an absence, i.e., the presence of a lack, is ultimately something, a thing, a surplus/remainder.

Levi pointed out something today that I wasn’t aware of, specifically that there are people who mistake objet a for the object of desire rather than the object-cause of desire. So I feel like I should reiterate his words here: the distinction between the object-cause of desire, which is behind desire and the object desired, which is the direction to (toward) which desire moves.

objet a –> desire –> objectgrowing-pains

So, according to Seminar X, we see Lacan pointing out that objet a is not only the object-cause of desire, but also the presence of objet a as anxiety point.

Now, back to the mystery of Lacan’s declaration that anxiety is not without an object.  There are four distinct textual moments in Seminar X I want to discuss that, for me, connect to the location and figuration of objet a in relation to desire and anxiety (lest we forget, Lacan situates anxiety between desire and jouissance)–1) Lacan’s distinction of his ideas on desire from Hegel’s, particularly in the context of the “your money or your life” dilemma; 2) Lacan’s use of the money metaphor threaded throughout the text; 3) the Sadist’s desire; 4)  and the Desire for the Other’s body.  Through a discussion of each of these moments and their connectivity, I hope merely to illuminate what it is that Lacan means in his claim that “the object a of the fantasy, support of desire, is embodied” (X 175). However, this post, as the title indicates, will only deal with the first of these four points. Stay tuned for upcoming posts, if you care, on the other three.

1) At the beginning of the seminar, Lacan makes it very clear the way in which he differs from Hegel on the concepts desire and fantasy. The example in Phenomenology of Spirit that Kojeve spends so much time on is the “your money or your life” proposition that leads into the, now popularly called, master-slave dialectic.dirk-dzimirsky-how-not-to-be-seen-preparatory-exercise

The dilemma, especially in a capitalist system, is that to give over the money is to not have access to a life and to not give over the money is to not have access to life. The value system in question here is the quality of life defined by the access money affords the subject, as well as the subject becoming a non-master, a slave to the larger system. To give up one’s money in this demand is to give up one’s self to the Other. For both participants in this event, they are seeking recognition: the one demanding “your money or your life” seeks recognition from the propositionee as a subject not to reckon with, and s/he seeks recognition from the demander either as someone worth sparing or more intimidating than first read. Either way, each participant must acknowledge the other as subject, as person, or the exchange means nothing. For the one demanding, to demand from a non-subject has no meaning to others from whom s/he also wants recognition; and for the one propositioned, to not be seen as worth being demanded of is to not be seen at all. To not be seen at all is to not be, or, to not mean, to not signify and, therefore, to not be a head

For Lacan, the money, $, and the subject, $, are interchangeable, as they are both signifiers. A subject is a signifier for another signifier; therefore, it is substitutable, exchangeable. Money, in our milieu, is THE signifier par excellence as it is that which is necessary for most exchanges–no money, no access. As well, the subject signifies to and for others by and large the amount of that other signifier that s/he has, viz., money.

(I would also argue that women have been b(u)y and large the other primary signifier as that which is exchanged and substituted within patriarchy: the weight of a man as signifier to another signifier often depends upon his (use of) women. The proposition to women is not “your money or your life,” but rather “your body or your life.” And even then it’s not a guarantee, because women are often not subjects in this dialectic.)20-helmut-newton-dead

Lacan is so kind as to offer us two algebraic formulas so that we can distinguish Hegel’s concept of desire from his own. Hegel’s desire, d(a): d(A)<a, can be read as desire (by its cause) is analogous to/such that/inner product of desire (by an other person) is less than that of the cause of desire. Okay, woah. Let’s slow down. d(a) means that (a), the object cause of desire precedes, as the parenthetical content is to be read first, the d, desire. However, it also means that a multiplies desire, or, desire is multiplied by its object cause. In set theory, the colon, :, denotes “such that,” but in linear algebra it denotes “the inner product.” And in linguistics, as most of us are aware, it denotes an analogy or a relation between words, sometimes a denotation of either synonyms or antonyms. I suppose this linguistic approach is similar to, but not identical with, the set theory “such that.” I don’t think we should remove this linguistic relation of the formula from our reading, for, after all, psychoanalysis is in part a science of language.

The first term is (a), an object, and this object is one “As paradoxical as it may seem…that desires” (25). So the d(a) is in itself a desiring object. Translated using set theory, the formula can be read, “this object desires such that the Other (A) desires.” However, as I will discuss below, the < algebraic notation for less than is not its only interpretation. Nevertheless, I’ll stick with the quantitative value for now, and temporarily claim that, in Hegel at least, the Other’s desire is never greater than the object-cause of desire itself.

Translated using linear algebra, which is the calculation and analysis of vectors, this formula can be read, “this object’s desire (or this object desiring) is the inner product of the Other’s desire, which is never greater than the object-cause of desire.” The colon is the marking point of distinction between a set theory and linear algebra reading of the formula, as the colon designates an inner product of a vector. *Aside: in an effort of full disclosure, I’m partial to thinking in vectors, particular within my psychoanalytic efforts, as I’m partial to thinking of Lacan’s work as that which is always in movement (and, as productively empty, but that’s another post).* Linear algebra’s main function is the working within vector spaces, and a vector space over a field is a set. Essentially, this turns into a set, but the set has a different function in the field (some of you will get this reference).

If it is the former, then the “desire for desire” is clear enough. The latter deciphering of the “inner product,” though, is bit more muddled: Here we see a stripped down formula of Hegel’s “your money or your life” dilemma, specifically pointing up the issue of recognition. Hegel’s “desire for desire is the desire for a desire to respond to the subject’s appeal….In demanding to be acknowledged, right where I get acknowledged, I only get acknowledged as an object. I get what I desire, I’m an object, and I can’t stand myself as an object, since this object that I am is of its essence a consciousness…I can’t stand myself acknowledged in the only type of acknowledgement I can obtain. Therefore it has to be settled at any cost between our two consciousnesses. There’s no longer any mediation but that of violence” (X 24). Violence ensues, though, only because the recognition one seeks doesn’t match up to the object cause of the desire: a misrecognition occurs. The object cause of the desire is greater than the other’s desire and the recognition of the other.

Lacan’s desire, d(a) < i(a): d(A), is, according to Lacan, “far more open to mediation” (24). Lacan uses two notations that are not in the Hegel formula, i and A. i is the mathematical notation for an imaginary unit, which mathematicians use in order to be able to do maths that explain the world, just as all numbers were created in order to explain the world. Just as when a theorist or philosopher says, “well, what if we factor in the possibility or variable of [blank],” so does the mathematician try to understand the possibilities of varying factors. The i is also a notation that is specifically used in mathematical matrix equations. The A, the barred Other, does not designate the subject as Other, as it does in Hegel’s conception of desire, but rather the lack in the Symbolic, the reservoir of signifiers, which also refers to the unconscious as that place where signifiers pool and lurk, informing the subject unbeknownst to itself.

To translate the formula within set theory, then, we can say that “the object cause of desire’s desire is less than the specular image within the imaginary matrix such that the unconscious that lacks desires.”

In linear algebra, we can say that “the object cause of desire’s desire is less than the specular image within the imaginary matrix is the inner product of the lacking Other’s (the unconscious’s) desire.”

The < and > cause me pause, though, as I’m not convinced that these are designations of quantitative value. For example, in group theory, the < and > are notations for “a proper subgroup” of the other part of the formula. So if we replace greater than and less than with this meaning, we get a reworking, according to linear algebra, that says, “the object cause of desire’s desire is a proper subgroup of the specular image within the imaginary matrix that is the inner product of the lacking Other’s (the unconscious’s) desire.” Subgroups, luckily for me, are also focused within an algebra of vectors. So the first part of the formula, “the object cause of desire’s desire,” is actually incorrect: it should read that the desire multiplied by the object cause of desire,” which is more in line with the persistent metonymy of desire. As well, the A is always the notation for the first set in a set theory equation, so the A, now barred, designates the lack of completion in the unconscious as the first set.  Here, perhaps we can begin to see vectors between locations–the A is that which must occur before the a can come to be, and the a is a location on the vector between the unconscious and the subject, $, a location that allows the $ to become, a necessity for it to persist. But there’s more: the parentheses don’t necessarily only designate a multiplication between terms where the ones inside must be dealt with first; in fact, in basic maths, the parenthesis designate a matrix of numbers, so the a can also be more than just One Object, but a matrix of stuff that Lacan bundles as a One.

I propose a reading of Lacan’s formula as, “the object cause of desire, which is in itself a matrix, always multiplied by desire, is a proper subgroup of the specular image within the imaginary matrix that is the inner product of the lacking Other’s (the unconscious’s) desire.” thumbs up

The object, as a matrix, then, cannot be oriented as something, but we can perhaps begin to locate it on a vector between varying desires, e.g., desire of the barred subject and its unconscious.

So why does Lacan argue that his formula of desire is more open to mediation?


Well, it seems that it’s more open to mediation because it is based upon the metonymy of desire, the persistence of the subject as “this object affected by desire” (26) because of the existence of the unconscious. He elaborate, “This false infinity is linked to the kind of metonymy that, concerning the definition of the who number, is called recursion” (26). The subject is only linked to the signifying chain by its being recognized as a signifier; the subject is an object to other signifiers, as it is not on or within the signifying chain but an object that designates a signifier; the subject’s anxiety is placed between desire and jouissance; the object of anxiety is, then,….

Anyway, my next post will tackle Lacan’s use of the money metaphor in order to see how he is playing with the “your money or your life” motif. Then I will revisit this algebra, but hopefully not so intensely, when I discuss the Sadist’s desire (his fourth formula within this discussion). The fourth and final post will tackle desire for the Other’s body, as this is where I hope to formulate better my own thoughts on the embodied object in connection with the object that is not oriented.


I’m sitting in on a four week course on Jacques Lacan’s Seminar X Anxiety at the Global Center for Advanced Studies. This seminar was recently published in English translation (J-A Miller) by Polity Press. There has also been a Cormac translation available for a while through the Ireland folks. I’m excited about the timeliness of this “official” translation along with the course, as I’m revising my dissertation into a book…hopefully successfully…and the overall theme is on affective manifestations of anxiety. So yay. After the first meeting, I’ve been trying to figure out ways to enter into the text for my purposes, and I’m still trying to figure out what I want to say, do, mean, etc. But I’ve compiled some ideas about they Hysteric’s discourse and anxiety from my dissertation into a blurb that I’m posting here as a start to developing the ideas more.

This discussion focuses on the hysteric~neurotic correlation, lack, the image, and anxiety by anchoring it to my thinking through of the body. The body, as I understand it, is not the biological body, but a body complexly constructed of a relationship between psychic perception and physicality, as well as often infringed upon by unconscious (and specifically hysterical) inscriptions, such as the inexplicable paralyses suffered by analysands in Freud’s accounts. Lacan, following Freud, asserts that everyone who falls into the category of the neurotic is, at root/core, an hysteric (see Freud’s “A Comparative Study of Traumatic and Hysterical Paralyses” SE, vol. I, 160-172). The subject’s hysteric core is what makes analysis possible. The hysteric’s discourse is not only a necessary stage of analysis, but it is the discursive stage in which the analysand pushes the boundaries of her understanding of her own meaning as a subject. Wacjman once wrote, “Drastically put, the speaking subject is hysterical as such.”

The hysterical speaking subject, $ then, functions as both subject and object within the hysteric’s discourse as the subject who demands knowledge of “her” identity from the master, thereby serving as the object-cause of the master’s desire and the object of his desire. 9750134.0001.001-00000013
In consideration of the link between the speech of the hysteric and the lack that the other three discourses mask with un- or less-than-truthful speech, if the neurotic is at core an hysteric, and the hysteric speaks consciously from the place of the barred subject, then the speech of the hysteric directly symptomizes the lack that other discourses mask with un- or less-than-truthful speech. The symptom is that which marks the arrival of the letter, the Real materiality of the signifier. This Real materiality of the signifier designates the core indivisibility of the signifier prior to its insertion or usage in the Imaginary and Symbolic registers. In other words that signifiers are “embodied” (SIII 289). Therefore, the subject, as a signifier for another signifier, is “embodied.”
Even though the subject is in question in psychoanalysis, I understand that it is the subject’s jouissance that is really in question, that produces interpretations of her repetition, directionalities of desire, and anxiety over lack. What I’m interested in knowing about is that other jouissance: not the jouissance of the neurotic, but that which is, I think, accessible through the hysteric. The hysteric’s interrogation of the master and the master’s discourse is an interrogation of the neurotic’s typical phallic jouissance. The interrogation of the neurotic’s jouissance, whether it is one’s own or another’s can be anxiety producing. When the Imaginary relation that provides the barrier between the subject and the Other begins to perforate, the subject is no longer protected from the anxiety for which the Imaginary provides a cushion. Copjec, in “May ’68”, reads anxiety as that which can potentially destabilize the subject, as that which lacks a solid place in the Symbolic, as that which can propel the subject toward a (sometimes dangerous) encounter with the Real. And when the subject is destabilized, as the inability to see how one is seen or find a specular image, then the subject encounters anxiety both in and because of her body. And although this can be sometimes dangerous, I think that this anxiety is potentially wildly emancipatory, a revolutionary Act.Woman_with_upper_body_tattooed_1907_cph.3a01441

Paolo Remedy, My Life

Paolo Remedy, 1 from Oh My Life

I found this cover image from Paolo Remedy. I think the series is titled Oh My Life. I’ve always carried with me a feeling of being at war, of having to be a soldier, as if the fight has always been already ongoing. I start my days (and always have) with the thought that I must “tuck [my] ribbons under [my] helmet and be a good soldier.” Of course, the soldier that I internalized is not the one that others expected of me. (And I did have someone in my life who was traditionally militant.) This image is a good representation of that feeling for a few reasons.

As a woman, and especially when I was a girl and young woman, I was often not seen, no face. I was a projection of various men’s ideas of what a girl or young woman is or should be, and a projection of what they wanted me to be to serve their purposes for whatever moment they were in. The woman in the photograph’s face is masked by the popular magazine, which most average people consider informative journalism. As well, her face is replaced more specifically by the glorified image of the white, male, soldier who fights for the “right” side of the “Big One,” the war that saved the world from fascism. Ha! It’s all fascism.

She is naked, clearly. But she is a naked body of typical modelesque proportions. Of course, this is not a comment against the woman herself, but the choice of Paolo to have her, and all of his models, fit a certain profile. Her body is young, it is shaven, and shaven in very particular ways–the armpits are bare, the areola are clean, the torso is bare, the pubic hair has been styled, the thighs are bare, and she has no major physical weakness or muscularity. She fits the masculinist, popular preference for arousal. For most of my life, I’ve had a body that fits this profile, which has invited unwanted, unnecessary, and often vile attention from men. This is part of my fight. And as people gaze upon this image, they will ultimately feel arousal: they will find themselves lingering at the curve of her breast, the shiny and supple nipple, the pubis, the openness of the thighs that grants access to her vagina, the small, parenthetical curve of her hips.

The irony is not lost, though, as the juxtaposition of the soldier’s image and the magazine to her body still lingers. The salute is the sarcasm behind the mask that doesn’t have to be seen if you don’t want to see it. All three objects (yes, I said all three objects) are in the end products of patriarchal, fascist tyranny–the popular, newsy Life magazine, the glorified murderer, the pornographic body. Yet, they are all subjects of the photograph, too. The magazine in relation to the body and the cover image is overexposed as banal, delivering an image that appears, in this context, simultaneously offensive and silly; the saluting woman, face masked, is the one pointing to the viewers’ stupidity as we are ultimately the ones being saluted to.

Each of the objects is a production of a larger machine. The magazine, the soldier, the woman’s body are all interchangeable. The magazine, with its recognizable, trade mark, red border, the font and positioning of the title LIFE, the choices of coverage and covers are and have always been a production of the same system that produces the soldier. The soldier defends the journalistic choices and the colorful production, the right to bear women.  The woman is also a production, both externally and internally.  She has learned to internalize the desire of the regime, just as the soldier and the duped journalist.

As I spend more time looking at this photograph, I’m noticing something else a bit more, um, menacing (don’t think that’s the right word, but nevertheless). The way the shadows are cast over her body are another layer of the tropology at work.  The shadow from her magazine arm drapes across her chest and shoulder like a military sash, or an ammunition magazine belt, or the strap of a gun holster.  The shadow that is cast around the bicep of her saluting arm is indicative of the armbands implemented by Nazi Germany to designate categories of people.

There are other photographs in Paolo Remedy’s Oh My Life series that evoke this interchangeability between the woman’s body and the magazine with varying covers. (And, honestly, I’m not impressed with his choices of photographic subjects except for this one series.) For example, there are two naked women, wearing only stilettos, sitting on sofas, holding two Life magazines in front of their faces. (I’ll have to search to find out who the images are, but I think it matters quite a bit. I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t.) The idea here, as I read them, is that the women and the magazine covers are metonymic signifiers of a larger economy. Thanks to Life magazine we even get the image of the soldier moving forward, out of the shot, that evokes the metonymy, and persistence through disposibility, of the regime, which speaks to the larger image at play. I don’t think I’m saying anything new or surprising here, but not only do I want to credit the photo, but also account for my use of it.

So, in the end, I salute you, the viewer who takes care to read what I jot down in this space.