We Love the One Who Responds to Our Question: “Who Am I?” ~ Jacques-Alain Miller

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Hanna Waar – Does psychoanalysis teach us something about love?

Jacques-Alain Miller – A great deal, because it’s an experience whose mainspring is love. It’s a question of that automatic and more often than not unconscious love that the analysand brings to the analyst, and which is called transference. It’s a contrived love, but made of the same stuff as true love. It sheds light on its mechanism: love is addressed to the one you think knows your true truth. But love allows you to think this truth will be likeable, agreeable, when in fact it’s rather hard to bear.

H. W. – So, what is it to really love?

J.-A. M. – To really love someone is to believe that by loving them you’ll get to a truth about yourself. We love the one that harbours the response, or a response, to our question: ‘Who am I?’
H. W. – Why do some people know how to love and not others?

J.-A. M. – Some people know how to provoke love in the other person, serial lovers as it were, men and women alike. They know what buttons to push to get loved. But they don’t necessarily love, rather they play cat and mouse with their prey. To love, you have to admit your lack, and recognise that you need the other, that you miss him or her. Those that think they’re complete on their own, or want to be, don’t know how to love. And sometimes, they ascertain this painfully. They manipulate, pull strings, but of love they know neither the risk nor the delights.

H. W. – ‘Complete on their own’: only a man could think that…

J.-A. M. – Well spotted! Lacan used to say, ‘To love is to give what you haven’t got.’ Which means: to love is to recognize your lack and give it to the other, place it in the other. It’s not giving what you possess, goods and presents, it’s giving something else that you don’t possess, which goes beyond you. To do that you have to assume your lack, your ‘castration’ as Freud used to say. And that is essentially feminine. One only really loves from a feminine position. Loving feminises. That’s why love is always a bit comical in a man. But if he lets himself get intimidated by ridicule, then in actual fact he’s not very sure of his virility.

H. W. – Is loving more difficult for men then?

J.-A. M. – Oh yes! Even a man in love has flashes of pride, bursts of aggressiveness against the object of his love, because this love puts him in a position of incompleteness, of dependence. That’s why he can desire women he doesn’t love, so as to get back to the virile position he suspends when he loves. Freud called this principle the ‘debasement of love life’ in men: the split between love and sexual desire.

H. W. – And in women?

J.-A. M. – It’s less common. In most cases, there’s a doubling-up of the male partner. On one hand, he’s the man that gives them jouissance and whom they desire, but he’s also the man of love, who’s feminised, necessarily castrated. Only it’s not anatomy that’s in the driving seat: there are some women who adopt a male position. There are more and more of them. One man for love, at home; and other men for jouissance, met on the net, in the street, or on a train.

H. W. – Why ‘more and more’?

J.-A. M. – Socio-cultural stereotypes of womanliness and virility are in the process of radical transformation. Men are being invited to open up to their emotions, to love and feminise themselves; women on the contrary are undergoing a certain ‘push to masculinisation’: in the name of legal equality they’re being driven to keep saying ‘me too.’ At the same time, homosexuals are claiming the same rights and symbols as heteros, like marriage and filiation. Hence a major instability in the roles, a widespread fluidity in the theatre of love, that contrasts with the fixity of yesteryear. Love is becoming ‘liquid’, as noted by the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. Everyone is being led to invent their own ‘lifestyle’, to assume their mode ofjouissance and mode of loving. Traditional scenarios are slowly becoming obsolete. Social pressure to conform hasn’t disappeared, but it’s on the wane.

H. W. – ‘Love is always reciprocal’ said Lacan. Is this still true in the current context? What does that mean?

J.-A. M. – This sentence gets repeated over and over without being understood, or it gets understood the wrong way round. It doesn’t mean that it’s enough to love someone for him to love you back. That would be absurd. It means: ‘If I love you, it’s because you’re loveable. I’m the one that loves, but you’re also mixed up in this, because there’s something in you that makes me love you. It’s reciprocal because there’s a to and fro: the love I have for you is the return effect of the cause of love that you are for me. So, you’re implicated. My love for you isn’t just my affair, it’s yours too. My love says something about you that maybe you yourself don’t know.’ This doesn’t guarantee in the least that the love of one will be responded to by the love of the other: when that happens it’s always of the order of a miracle, it’s not calculable in advance.

H. W. – We don’t find him or her by chance. Why that guy? Why that girl?

J.-A. M. – There’s what Freud called Liebesbedingung, the condition for love, the cause of desire. It’s a particular trait – or a set of traits – that have a decisive function in a person for the choice of the loved one. This totally escapes the neurosciences, because it’s unique to each person, it’s down to their singular, intimate history. Traits which are sometimes minute are at play. For instance, Freud singled out in one of his patients a cause of desire that was a shine on a woman’s nose!

H. W. – It’s hard to believe in a love founded on these trifles!

J.-A. M. – The reality of the unconscious outstrips fiction. You can’t imagine how much in human life is founded, especially where love is concerned, on little things, on pinheads, on ‘divine details’. It’s true that’s it’s above all in men that you find causes of desire like that, which are like fetishes whose presence is indispensable to spark off the love process. Tiny particularities, reminiscent of the father, the mother, a brother, a sister, someone from childhood, also play their role in women’s choice of love object. But the feminine form of love is more readily erotomaniac than fetishist: they want to be loved, and the interest, the love that’s shown them, or that they suppose in the other person, is often sine qua non for triggering their love, or at least their consent. This phenomenon lies at the base of the practice of men chatting women up.
H. W. – Do you not attribute any role to fantasies?

J.-A. M. – In women, fantasies, whether conscious or unconscious, are decisive for the position of jouissance more than for the choice of love object. And it’s the opposite for men. For example, it may happen that a woman can only achievejouissance – orgasm, let’s say – on condition that she imagines herself, during intercourse itself, being beaten, raped, or imagines that she’s another woman, or even that she’s elsewhere, absent.

H. W. – And the male fantasy?

J.-A. M. – It’s very much in evidence in love at first sight. The classic example, commented on by Lacan, is in Goethe’s novel, the sudden passion of young Werther for Charlotte, at the moment he sees her for the first time, feeding the rabble of kids around her. Here it’s the woman’s maternal quality that sparks off love. Another example, taken from my practice, is the following: a boss in his fifties is seeing applicants for a secretarial post; a young woman of twenty comes in; straight away he declares his love. He wonders what got hold of him and goes into analysis. There, he uncovers the trigger: in her he met traits that reminded him of what he had been at the age of twenty, when he went for his first job interview. In a way, he’d fallen in love with himself. In these two examples we see the two sides of love distinguished by Freud: either you love the person who protects, in this case the mother, or you love a narcissistic image of yourself.

H. W. – It sounds like we’re puppets!

J.-A. M. – No, between any man and any woman, nothing is written in advance, there’s no compass, no pre-established relationship. Their encounter isn’t programmed like it is between the spermatozoon and the ovum; it’s got nothing to do with our genes either. Men and women speak, they live in a world of discourse, that’s what’s decisive. The modalities of love are extremely sensitive to the surrounding culture. Each civilisation stands out for the way it structures the relation between the sexes. Now, it so happens that in the West, in our societies which are liberal, market and juridical, the ‘multiple’ is well on the way to dethroning the ‘one’. The ideal model of ‘great lifelong love’ is slowly losing ground faced with speed dating, speed loving, and a whole flotilla of alternative, successive, even simultaneous amorous scenarios.

H. W. – And love in the long term? In eternity?

J.-A. M. – Balzac said, ‘Any passion that isn’t eternal is hideous.’ But can the bond hold out for life within the register of passion? The more a man devotes himself to just one woman, the more she tends to take on a maternal signification for him: more sublime and untouchable than loved. Married homosexuals develop this cult of the woman best: Aragon sings his love for Elsa; as soon as she dies, it’s hello boys! And when a woman clings on to one man, she castrates him. So, the path is narrow. The best destiny of conjugal love is friendship, that’s essentially what Aristotle said.

H. W. – The problem is that men say they don’t understand what women want; and women, what men expect of them…

J.-A. M. – Yes. What objects to the Aristotelian solution is the fact that dialogue from one sex to the other is impossible, as Lacan said with a sigh. People in love are in fact condemned to go on learning the other’s language indefinitely, groping around, seeking out the keys – keys that are always revocable. Love is a labyrinth of misunderstandings whose way out doesn’t exist.

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Translated by from the French by Adrian Price for NLS Messager

Source: www.lacan.com

Jacques-Alain Miller (born 14 February 1944 Chateauroux,France) is a psychoanalyst and writer. He is one of the founder members of the École de la Cause freudienne and the World Association of Psychoanalysis which he presided from 1992 to 2002. He is the sole editor of the books of the Seminar of Jacques Lacan.

Deterritorialization (via Larval Subjects.)

For many years I’ve been fascinated with Deleuze and Guattari‘s triad of deterritorialization, reterritorialization, and territory. Truth be told, when I first encountered these concepts I was repulsed. I found the language to be trendy and understood “deterritorialization” to refer to some romantic notion of “escape” from a territory. While there are indeed elements of this in Deleuze and Guattari’s thought, the concept, I believe, is much more … Read More

via Larval Subjects .

Projective Identification and Introjection

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Melanie Klein makes a distinction between introjected objects and the internal objects. The internal objects include the introjected objects as well as the objects of identification and the a priori fantasy images. According to Klein introjection is a defence mechanism against the anxiety and the fear of the horrible inner world of the child. The child assumes itself populated by bad, aggressive, and tormenting objects and attempts to introject the external good objects. In other words the child tries to replace the internal bad object with the external good object. So introjection is a defence mechanism to protect not only the me but also the internal good objects.[1]

For Klein the unconscious fantasy sets the foundation of all psychic processes. But Freud had said fantasizing is a defence mechanism to compensate for the frustrating and unsatisfying reality. Klein thinks that the unconscious fantasmatic production is the manifestation of instinctive processes. In Klein’s hands the unconscious becomes a much more active and productive dynamism in touch with what’s going on in the social reality. The importance of Klein’s discovery is that she shows how intimately related the child is with the social reality from the beginning of life. The child is turned towards the mother and the unconscious moves towards consciousness in and through relating to the objects surrounding him/her. For Klein one of the first external objects the child relates to is the mother’s breast. In the face of hunger the child starts crying for he/she has no other means of communication. The mother understands that the child wants milk. Presented with milk from the mother’s breast the child comes to realize that there is an external good object that is the solution to the problem of hunger. But when the flow of milk is interrupted the child becomes confused, with the effect of hunger. The child considers the breast as a bad object and becomes more aggressive. When the milk comes the child realizes that he/she had been attacking not only the source of bad but also the source of good. So the child understands that every object is good and bad at the same time, and it is the use into which the object is put that determines its particular goodness or badness. It is the way in which one relates to social reality that matters.

In the first year of life introjection and splitting are dominant; the child is governed by the death drive, which is the drive that emerges as a response to the frustration in the face of the impossibility of going back into the enclosed space and time of the womb in which all that the organism needs is supplied without the organism having to make any effort to obtain it.

To be able to cope with the death drive the subject projects some of his/her aggressiveness onto the external world represented by the mother. Resultantly the child recognizes the external world as divided within itself and populated by good and bad objects which are not good and bad in-themselves but become good or bad in relation to the other objects. Projective identification is another defence mechanism the child uses to cope with the difficulties of life. With projective identification, to protect the me and the internal good objects from a possible attack from the external bad object, the child projects the internal bad objects onto the external good object. The child confuses the external good objects, external bad objects, internal good objects, and internal bad objects. Everything is intermingled so the child becomes aggressive towards himself/herself and towards the external world. To cope with this difficult situation the child projects unities onto the external world and makes no distinction between the good and the bad. This means that the child has passed from the state of being governed by the death drive, to the state of being governed by the life drive.

In the third stage of development there is the depressive position. With the depressive position the child feels guilty for attacking not only the good object but also the bad object in the paranoid-schizoid position of introjection and projective identification. The child realizes that the loving and caring mother had been the target of paranoid attacks all this time. To compensate for the damage caused the child strives to make reparations to the relationship with the mother embodying the social reality. For Klein depressive anxiety is a sign of progress.

These psychic processes go on until the end of life. The child identifies his/her image on the mirror as himself/herself. Lacan calls Klein’s depressive position ‘the mirror-stage.’

In the Lacanian sense, too, in which the imaginary, opposed to the symbolic but constantly imbricated with it, designates the basic lure of the ego, the definitive imprint of a stage before the Oedipus complex (which also continues after it), the durable mark of the mirror which alienates man in his own reflection and makes him the double of his double, the subterranean persistence of the exclusive relation to the mother, desire as a pure effect of lack and endless pursuit, the initial core of the unconscious (primal repression). All this is undoubtedly reactivated by the play of that other mirror, the cinema screen, in this respect a veritable psychical substitute, a prosthesis for our primally dislocated limbs.[2]

In the mirror stage, a period of imaginary and narcissistic identifications, the child believes in the illusion which he/she sees on the mirror. He/she sees himself/herself as a totality and believes that that’s what he/she really is. It is a period of conflict between the self as the other’s object of desire and the self as the subject sees it. The reflection on the mirror starts the process of introjection and projective-identification that will go on until death.

[…] the experience of the mirror as described by Lacan is essentially situated on the side of the imaginary (=formation of the ego by identification with a phantom, an image), even if the mirror also makes possible a first access to the symbolic by the mediation of the mother holding the child to the glass whose reflection, functioning here as the capitalized Other, necessarily appears in the field of the mirror alongside that of the child.[3]

The screen is the site of projective identification. I put myself in the place of the character and try to see the film from his perspective. In a way I narcissistically try to situate myself in the context of the film as a whole person. But as soon as the screen gains this mirror-like quality it loses it. With the screen there is a more advanced process at work, and this process is called projective-identification, not merely identification. The subject is aware that he is not the character in the movie, but still takes on this other identity on himself as though he is the one experiencing all those adventures.

When I am watching a movie I become the eye of the camera. Everything happens around me and I am a mere observer of all these things. In a way, as I’m watching a movie I become a semi-god-like creature, seeing not-all hearing not-all from a position not above all; from a position which renders the binary opposition between the transcendental and the immanent irrelevant. I am within and without the events and I am at once here and somewhere else with my body and everything else. They are the words and the eyes of the others that render the words and the eyes of my selves possible, articulable and actual.


Reference Matters

[1] Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, trans. Alix Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press, 1975)

[2] Christian Metz, The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and Cinema, trans. Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster and Alfred Guzetti (London: Macmillan, 1982), 4

[3]Metz, 6

Nature, Culture, and Lacan

To have dismantled love in order to become capable of a greater loving. To have dismantled one’s self in order finally to be alone and meet the true double at the other end of the line. A clandestine passenger on a motionless voyage… –– Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 197

According to Lacan a psychoanalysable subject’s drama is an outcome of the conflict between nature and culture. As Claude Lévi-Strauss put it, this conflict arises from the incest taboo, which is a result of the prohibition of marriage among family members who are tied to one another by blood.

It is modern structuralism that has brought this out best, by showing that it is at the level of matrimonial alliance, as opposed to natural generation, to biological lineal descent—at the level therefore of the signifier—that the fundamental exchanges take place and it is there that we find once again that the most elementary structures of social functioning are inscribed in the terms of a combinatory.[1] 

 From the perspective of structuralism the incest taboo produces the cultural family and separates it from the natural family. The incest taboo is the effect and the cause of the conflict between nature and culture.  Oedipus delivers the subject’s role in society and hence gives the subject its cultural and sexual identity. This separates the subject from its non-identity and forms the basis for the conscious desires to flourish. All that is repressed in this process gives birth to the unconscious. But the unconscious is not a pool in which the repressed waste material is accumulated; rather, it is a theoretical construct to explain what happens to the repressed material but which nevertheless has discernible effects in everyday life and behaviour. 

For Freud, with the resolution of the Oedipus conflict the period of primary narcissism comes to an end. All that the subject wants is to get back what it had lost upon entry into the symbolic order through Oedipus. The subject loses the sense of omnipotence and is in pursuit of a narcissistic sense of oneness. Each time the subject steps it tries to step towards the pleasures of narcissistic satisfaction of the first step, and yet with each step moves further away from it.[2] Lacan’s narcissistic period, the mirror stage, is the period after the period of an unmediated relationship between the child and the mother and it is in the mirror stage that the child identifies himself with his whole image on the mirror to become what his mother wants him to be. Identification with the mother turns into identification with the self’s whole image on the mirror which is assumed to be the object of mother’s desire. Since the child cannot yet make a distinction between the me and the not-me, and sees himself as one, the child is as yet a mere (subject), that is to say a subject that is not a subject of culture.[3]

The child exits the order of nature and enters the order of culture through symbols. It is a symbolic entry to the world of symbols in which a subject becomes the subject. A symbol fills the space in-between the child and the mother and is the third world, the imaginary world between the symbolic and the real, which takes the place of the unmediated relationship between the other two.

The reflection on the mirror sets in motion the numberless introjective-projective processes that the subject will experience throughout his/her life. Seeing the whole image of self on the mirror helps the subject to develop a self-consciousness as a separate being neither in-itself nor for itself. The awareness of selfness brings with it the awareness of otherness. The subject distinguishes between the me and the not-me. This situation cuts the subject in two halves; one half is the omnipotent exhibitionist and the other half is the object of the gaze of others. Realizing that the subject is not only the observer but also the observed produces a self-conscious consciousness; being conscious of self as that which can never be fully conscious of itself.

The subject is produced in and through language. When the subject says I the symbol becomes the mediator between the internal and the external worlds, which means that language splits the subject and the object as it unites them. Following the mirror stage The Name of the Father completely ends the unmediated relationship between the child and the mother and establishes its own laws and institutions. The symbolic father is he who has what the mother lacks and to whom the mother is subject. The father deprives the mother and the child of their unmediated relationship and deprives the mother of the phallus. For Lacan, the civilizing castration, the castration that turns the human child into a cultural subject, does that by directing the child from being to having. Rather than being the phallus the child begins to want to have the phallus. It is the absence of the phallus that is established rather than the phallus itself. In pursuit of the phallus as a substitute for the unattainable mother, the subject obeys the father’s law. The constitution of the phallus as a lack opens a gap between the subject and the object. It is this gap, this lack, this absence that is the unconscious and renders the conscious subject possible. What man lacks is a mythological totality symbolized by the phallus. And this lack is a condition of the subject. The subject and its unconscious are produced at the same time. Language turns the human child into a non-subject, it gives him his sexual identity, at the same time produces unconscious drives and situates the subject in the symbolic order and induces pain.

Oedipal discourse forms the basis for the deliverance of the subject’s sexual identity and is the discourse of the other, the unconscious. For the subject to be able to use language, first he has to acquire language. In the learning process the unconscious manifests itself in and through slips of the tongue, jokes, and dreams. Slips of the tongue and jokes reveal the real of the speaking subject’s desire. The unconscious is the condition of conscious discourse. 

For Lacan, language is the condition of the unconscious. The symbolic order constitutes the unconscious drives. That which the subject wants is the unmediated experience of existence lost upon entry into the symbolic order. The rupture between being and non-being opens with language and in the unconscious the symbol of the fullness of being, completeness of the subject, is the phallus. And the phallus is that which the subject had lost upon entry into the symbolic order. But since the subject has to use language to attain the lost object, his striving for wholeness is in vain, which renders him tragic and exhilarating. For as I said earlier on, as the subject thinks that he is stepping towards the real of the desired object he is in fact moving further away from it with each word he adds to his vocabulary.

Here I would like to tell the most known of the Oedipus myths, but at the same time the one that is least known as an Oedipus myth, the story of Adam and Eve. We shall listen to Adam and Eve’s story as though it is our own story. For man perpetually runs after his dreams, and as he does this he moves on through disappointments. I shall therefore stress the significance of disappointment and frustration in psychoanalytic discourse.

Adam eats the forbidden apple given to him by Eve. Counter to what Genesis andMiltonsay, I think the relationship between male and female is built on a prohibition. Adam eats the apple. Adam is expelled from paradise for doing that which shouldn’t have been done. He is banned from the heaven on earth (Eden) and is nailed to pain and suffering. And he is promised paradise after death. But why is an apple prohibited in paradise? Because as a cultural fantasy, paradise is the other of something forbidden, it is the product of this forbidding. If the law, the symbolic, is removed from the scene, all symbolic meaning collapses. And since it is law that produces the unlawful, since it is repression that forms the unconscious, there can be no symbolic order without the fantasy supporting it and keeping the unconscious drives at bay.

It is the sense of primary Narcissism that is the desired object of fantasy, a sense of oneness with the world, omnipotence, and completeness. So life doesn’t end with death, it reaches its most complete form in the womb, it begins with a death. Life is a striving for a death oscillating between a forbidden death and a promised death. Death pulls the subject towards itself with all the attraction of its staticity, or stasis. Eros and Thanatos are twin brothers.

Expulsion of Narcissism is a condition of cultural life. Narcissus, this beautiful man, falls in love with his own image on the water. His love for himself prevents him from seeing the love presented to him by culture–Echo’s love. Narcissus leans forward to touch his image and leans so much that he falls and drowns in the water, dies in his own image.[4]

This period of primary Narcissism is what Lacan calls the mirror stage. At this stage there is a conflict between the Ideal-I and the I as the object of the other’s desire. It is this that splits the subject. In other words every individual re-experiences the tragedy of Narcissus at the back of his/her mind throughout life. And it is this regressive re-experiencing that produces and is produced by the real of the subject’s desire.

The father’s law forbids identification with the mother and promotes identification with the object of the mother’s desire. The father’s law is the law of the culture. If the child doesn’t obey the father’s law, that is, when the child refuses to leave the mirror stage behind, the child cannot move on to the next stage and distinguish itself from the others; it resists codification. This is what a schizophrenic is. To be locked in the mirror stage is to be a schizophrenic. Here the subject experiences existence as an illusory reality. He can do nothing to act upon the world for he doesn’t know what use the objects surrounding him have. The schizophrenic who refuses to pass from father’s civilizing castration, is he who escapes cultural codification. And culture locks away the mad into a cell with mirrors on all walls that hide the secrets. A chain of identifications with the objects of others’ desires begins when and if the subject passes through the fantasy world of the mirror stage and becomes rational. It all ends with an idealized war culture, when and if culture is built on and through the Name of the Father.

Nature, Culture, and Lacan un-gif-dans-ta-gueule:Mr Nobody - Jaco Van Dormael 


 Reference Matters

[1] Jacques Lacan, Seminar XII, The For Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 150

[2] Sigmund Freud, On Narcissism: An Introduction, trans. Strachey J. (London: Hogarth Press, 1964)

[3]Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage,” Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1977

[4] Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of The Disaster, trans. Ann Smock (The University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln and London, 1995), 126-27-28 “The Greek myths do not, generally, say anything; they are seductive because of a concealed, oracular wisdom which elicits the infinite process of divining. What we call meaning, or indeed sign, is foreign to them: they signal without signifying; they show, or they hide, but they always are clear, for they always speak the transparent mystery, the mystery of transparence. Thus all commentary is ponderous and uselessly verbose—all the more so if it employs the narrative mode, and expands the mysterious story intelligently into explanatory episodes which in turn imply a fleeting clarity. If Ovid, perhaps prolonging a tradition, introduces into the fable of Narcissus the fate—which one might call telling—of the nymph Echo, it is surely in order to tempt us to discover there a lesson about language which we ourselves add, after the fact. Nevertheless, the following is instructive: since it is said that Echo loves Narcissus by staying out of sight, we might suppose that Narcissus is summoned to encounter a voice without body, a voice condemned always to repeat the last word and nothing else—a sort of nondialogue: not the language whence the Other would have approached him, but only the mimetic, rhyming alliteration of a semblance of language. Narcissus is said to be solitary, but it is not because he is excessively present to itself; it is rather because he lacks, by decree (you shall not see yourself), that reflected presence—identity, the self-same—the basis upon which a living relation with life, which is other, can be ventured. He is supposed to be silent: he has no language save the repetitive sound of a voice which always says to him the self-same thing, and this is a self-sameness which he cannot attribute to himself. And this voice is narcissistic precisely in the sense that he does not love it—in the sense that it gives him nothing other to love. Such is the fate of the child one thinks is repeating the last words spoken, when in fact he belongs to the rustling murmur which is not language, but enchantment. And such is the fate of lovers who touch each other with words, whose contact with each other is made of words, and who can thus repeat themselves without end, marvelling at the utterly banal, because their speech is not a language but an idiom they share with no other, and because each gazes at himself in the other’s gaze in a redoubling which goes from mirage to admiration.”

Cinema and Fetishism, or, The Commercial Value of Shit

Even shit has a commercial value, depending of course, on whose shit it is. While in the case of human shit you have to pay to get rid of it, in the case of animal shit it is said to be a very efficient and sufficient fertilizer for one who has learned to use it, rather than seeing it as something worthless because it cannot be eaten. “Inversely, it is this very terror that is projected on to the spectacle of the mother’s body, and invites the reading of an absence where anatomy sees a different conformation.”[1]

Since even the instincts are produced by the superpanoptic projection-introjection mechanism in which the subject finds himself/herself, giving free rein to the unconscious to express itself only produces projections of the evil within onto the without. For Freud the death drive is the effect of a striving for infinity, nothingness, and death. I would say it is also the cause of it.

Commodity fetishism is equal to will to nothingness in that it is the desire for the inorganic objects to stand in for nothingness, the Real of the subject’s desire. Capitalism replaces the use value of the objects with two-dimensional commercial value, so the subject desires to be desired, and he/she can only do that by adapting to the two dimensional sphere of commodity fetishism; by becoming a fetish object himself. If we recall Marcuse complaining that the one-dimensional is absorbing the two-dimensional  and also keep in mind that Marcuse’s two-dimensional culture has become the pre-dominant culture of today, we can see why the solution is to say, “I don’t see myself as you see me,” to the big Other in whatever form it appears in our lives.

In our opinion fetishism only occurs in sadism in a secondary and distorted sense. It is divested of its essential relation to disavowal and suspense and passes into the totally different context of negativity and negation, where it becomes an agent in the sadistic process of condensation.[2]

So the death drive produces new objects of desire by splitting the already existing objects. The subject as death drive, by splitting the symbolic, opens up spaces for the emergence of new objects of desire to stand in for nothingness and death.

The good object has moved to the side of knowledge and the cinema becomes a bad object (a dual displacement which makes it easy for ‘science’ to stand back). The cinema is ‘persecuted’, but this persistence is also a reparation (the knowing posture is both aggressive and depressive), reparation of a specific kind, peculiar to the semiologist: the restoration to the theoretical body of what has been taken from the institution, from the code which is being ‘studied.’[3]

Writing about cinema is essentially a criticism of the symbolic order, for both writing and cinematic production are themselves symbolic social activities. Since cinema exploits the life drive by satisfying the desire for something covering nothing, writing about cinema is essentially governed by the death drive which tries to expose the nothingness behind the symbolic. That which a film veils is nothing other than nothing; and exposing this nothingness behind the film introduces a split between the subject and the signifier. When looked at like that psychotherapy becomes critical of the existing social order, for by criticizing the film the critic heals the film industry hence having a healing effect on the spectator.

It is clear that fetishism, in the cinema as elsewhere, is closely linked to the good object. The function of the fetish is to restore the latter, threatened in its ‘goodness’ (in Melanie Klein’s sense) by the terrifying discovery of the lack. Thanks to the fetish, which covers the wound and itself becomes erotogenic, the object as a whole can become desirable again without excessive fear.[4]

According to Metz cinema is a fetish object. Films stand in for an object that is absent. The reflection of images on the screen veil the nothingness behind them without which they would not have been seen. “The fetish is the cinema in its physical state. A fetish is always material: insofar as one can make up for it by the power of the symbolic alone one is precisely no longer a fetishist.”[5]

Cinema produces unattainable objects of desire. By filling in a gap they render the nothingness more unattainable. They give the impression that there is something they are hiding and that way they produce the desire for nothingness. Cinema’s power of exploiting the will to nothingness, however, is the only tool one has at hand to criticize the cinematic apparatus as a form of ideology.

Sublimation of the objects of desire takes place through cinema and television. The more they are rendered unattainable the more sublime they become. What cinema does is to create the illusion of presence. Cinema shows an absent object through presenting an object to substitute for the nothingness. So it is the presence of an absence that we see on the screen. To enjoy cinema the subject has to know that what he/she is watching is only a presence covering an absence, that it is that which stands in for the Real of the subject’s desire. So Metz can say, “the fetish is the cinema in its physical sense.”[6] Looked at that way fetish is that which is produced to stand in for the Real object of desire, which is nothingness, and is therefore produced to satisfy the will to nothingness.

Cinematic narrative doesn’t show events in their real sequence. There are cuts, gaps, spaces between the scenes. All those, cuts, gaps, spaces between the scenes are openings to an external reality; they give the impression that there is something external to that which is actually being shown. The spectator is made to believe that there is something he/she doesn’t know as to what’s really going on in the film. This curiosity for that which is unknown inherent in every human is that which cinema exploits. By making the spectator simultaneously believe and not-believe what he/she is seeing on the screen, cinema creates an ambiguous relationship with itself and the spectator.

 By leaving gaps within the narrative, cinema invites projective identification. The spectator projects what he has inside him onto the absence within the filmic text. He fills those gaps with his internal partial objects and imposes a unity and continuity on the split narrative of the film.

The death drive involves splitting and introjection. The subject as death drive splits given unities and continuities. It is impossible for a spectator governed by the death drive to identify with the characters in the film. On the contrary, he desires nothing, identifies with nothing, without which he knows there can be no meaning. Rather than filling in the gaps within the narrative death drive puts them into the spotlight, it shows that those gaps are interior to the narrative itself. The incompleteness of the narrative is the condition of possibility for its meaning.

We can differentiate these two different types of spectatorship, one governed by the life drive and the other by the death drive, as associationism and dissociationsim.

In associationism the subject immerses himself/herself in the medium of the imaginary and identifies with the characters in the movie. In dissociationsim the subject introduces new splits between the internal and the external objects and hence renders identification impossible for himself/herself.

The life drive is the will to become one with the world, it is the force behind mimicry and associationsim. It is wrong to associate the death drive with mimicry and associationism. The subject as death drive dissociates and splits given unities and continuities. In horror movies the absence of the knowledge of truth for the spectator, that is, not being given the role of the omniscient eye, the spectator becomes curious and to understand what’s really going on in the movie he/she identifies with the characters. In the face of the abundance of gaps to be filled in the process of watching the film the life drive grows less and less strong for doing all the job throughout the watching process, while the death drive is oppressed and because of this very oppression it grows more and more strong. Eventually the life drive collapses and the death drive overflows the auditorium.

cropped-artwork_images_185199_333751_hiroshi-sugimoto.jpgAlthough it is itself a product of the death drive, horror film exploits the life drive, that is, the spectator’s will to form unities, bind the action, desire to get rid of all gaps and inconsistencies within the narrative. The death drive negates negation and reaches the highest possible degree of affirmation. Thanatos wills nothing, whereas Eros wills nothingness. We can see that the Thanatos case is the reverse of what Nietzsche says, “man would much rather will nothingness than not will.” Eros wants to want nothing; and strives to form such unities that everything will fit in its place; the system will lack nothing, so Eros will want nothing. Thanatos introduces splits, and tries to reach the nothingness behind the symbolic. Thanatos wants nothing rather than nothingness. He wants nothing to show the nothingness in the midst of everything, that there is nothing behind all that there is.

While Eros wants to lack nothing, wants the lack of lack, Thanatos affirms life as it is and wants lack, wants something to lack, wants that lack to remain after all is said and done, so that he can desire the nothingness which that lack presents. Thanatos doesn’t want something to replace nothing, but rather wants the lack in everything. By negating negation the death drive affirms life as it is, that is, in its incompleteness, and with nothingness and death in its midst.


[1]Christian Metz, The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and Cinema, trans. Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster and Alfred Guzetti (London: Macmillan, 1982), 69

[2] Gilles Deleuze, Coldness and Cruelty, trans. Jean McNeil (New York: Zone, 1989), 32

[3] Metz, 80

[4] Metz, 75

[5] Metz, 75

[6] Metz, 75

The Nietzschean Subject

Looking south from Top of the Rock, New York City

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Nietzsche creates the concept of bad conscience as the generator of illness, which is in turn fed by the illness it generates, giving birth to the man of ressentiment.[1] Nietzsche’s ressentiment is what Melanie Klein calls envy. To be able to see the link between envy/ressentiment and the will to nothingness/the life-death drives, I shall start from the beginning, from the first year of life.[2]

In a world where everything is new for the subject, nothing is symbolic. The subject is born into the symbolic order, and yet there are many other symbolic orders totally different from the one into which it is born. The subject, in a nomadic fashion, moves from one symbolic order and into another. The shift from one and into the other is so sudden that it is almost unrecognisable. In its new symbolic order, the subject is experiencing everything for the first time; just like the child in the first year of life. The child becomes the mediator between an external reality and an internal one. Nothing is good or evil yet. The inner world is composed of part-objects which are fluctuating bits and pieces of imagery, a mass of misery. The child, through its actions, not only subverts the symbolic order but also produces some new reality. There are many questions the infant knows not how to ask as yet. For Melanie Klein this is the paranoid-schizoid position of the child through and after which the child learns to make a distinction between the good objects and the bad objects. The paranoid-schizoid position is followed by the manic-depressive position; that is when the child becomes an unhappy consciousness because it learns that the mother’s breast is good and bad at the same time. Lacan’s mirror-stage –a period of Imaginary identifications– is a version of Klein’s manic-depressive position, which consists in a series of Narcissistic illusions and imaginary identifications through which the child learns to act upon the objects surrounding him/her.

The Nietzschean subject is always at the periphery and perpetually in touch with the objects surrounding him. In fact he is not only in touch but also is defined by them. This subject is produced through what it consumes. The subject buys things and those things determine the subject’s identity which is a non-identity. The subject becomes what it consumes, it projects what it has introjected. In a world full of violence, destruction and death, or “madness in every direction,” as Kerouac would have said, the subject becomes nothing but a projector of the evil within society. This paradoxical nature of the contemporary Nietzschean subject is a result of the turning of self into the other within in the process of becoming. The self of the present has not only become a prison-house of the others within itself but also it itself has become a self-contained monad with no relation to the outside and no awareness of the external world populated by the others’ selves.

The relation of a subject to the objects surrounding him/her shows us something about the subject’s relation to death. In a world in which use value as opposed to exchange value is important, the subject gets to know the nature of the objects and death more profoundly. But today use value is itself determined by exchange value. The world today is almost exactly the opposite of a world in which nothing is a substitute for another thing.

With societies based on exchange value the relationship between the subject and the object is confined in the paranoid-schizoid position. There remains no gap between the subject and the object when in fact there should be. Everything becomes a substitute for another thing and everything is substitutable. With the advance of global capitalism the subject itself becomes an object. The subject begins to act itself out as an object for the desire and consumption of the other. The subject becomes a substitute of itself.  With global capitalism the subject starts to feel itself as a machine; it becomes inorganic for itself when in fact it is essentially organic. In other words organs start to operate like non-organs, all organicity is replaced by inorganicity, life with death, and in this kind of a society everyone is always already dead.

Global capitalism indeed appears to have rendered everyone equal in relation to each other. They all have the equal rights to consume but in no way have all the means to do so. This status of the subject as a mere consumer, objectifies the subject as a subject of consumption. The subject is reduced to a consuming-excreting machine(naturally), or a mechanism of introjection-projection(culturally). That makes everyone substitutable by anyone else; they can take on each other’s roles, act themselves out as they are not, as someone else is. In other words rather than become no-one, no-body, imperceptible, they become something exchangeable and expendable. And yet it is only on the condition of feeling oneself as nothing rather than something, feeling of self as nothingness, can one go beyond one’s symbolic life driven by striving for security and omniscience. The subject should start to see the reduction of self to nothingness as a gain when from the perspective of the already existing symbolic order it is a loss of the difference of everything in relation to a subject or an object. In the absence of this kind of a subject who does not want to become an ordinary symbolic person, herd-instinct dominates all subjects. With the advance of global capitalism this herd-instinct can be said to have become nothing but a result of the exploitation of the life and death drives to reduce life to a struggle for and against life/death. The subject no longer has to carry the burden of being different. In this light and in this time we can see global capitalism creating not only the conditions of possibility for the subject to forget itself but also the conditions of impossibility for a remembrance of self, producing the non-knowledge of self as the counter-knowledge.

Now that Nietzsche’s autobiographical book Ecce Homo has become a symptom, an effect of his previous books, the other within of his oeuvre, in most parts of Europe, but especially in the United States of America and Britain, this book is considered to be a  prescription for the predominant way of “healthy living.” It will almost sound offensive to say that the other within of the past has become the self of the present, the non-reason inherent in reason has become the reason itself, and yet the questions remain:

1. What can be learned from Nietzsche’s failure, which caused and continues to cause many other failures?

2. What are the conditions of possibility for a non-antagonistic and yet non-illusory relationship between the self and the other and how can they be sustained?


[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Random House, 1969), 33-6

[2]Melanie Klein, Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946-1963, (London: The Hogarth Press, 1984), 29-32