Can psychoanalysis rethink sexuality without fully relying on the controversial and contested notion of the phallus? The simplest, schematic version of the Freudian Oedipal model offers a binary logic of having or not having it, of presence or absence: boys have it, girls don’t. For Freud, castration is a loss that women think they have suffered and that men fear. For Lacan, the phallus is clearly not the penis; for him castration is even a more fundamental loss affecting both sexes since both sexes are castrated. Nobody can have the phallus or can be it. In the mother’s body, nothing is missing. Lack is purely a logical limit—the mother is deprived of something she does not have. The phallus is the object that appears to veil a symbolic lack.
It should not come as a surprise that Lacan’s only conceivable idea of the object of desire is a strange object, one he refers to with the letter a. This object is lacking, it does not have an image, there is no signifier to name it, it is leftover of symbolization that cannot be seen or deciphered, and if it happens to be revealed, it can create severe anxiety.
This object commemorates loss and lack, hence it defines human sexuality as asexual—the whole human economy of desire is mediated by this enigmatic object. Paradoxically, the object a, even though it is the cause of sexual desire, is not sexual in itself. This is of special interest in transgender and queer issues because the object a usually takes the form of something that may or may not be gendered.
This course explores how Lacan’s invention of the object a provides a model that supersedes the notion of the phallus. No previous knowledge of Lacan is required.
Class 1, Thursday May 22, 2014: Is the Phallus Obsolete?
Lacan, Jacques (2006). “The Signification of the Phallus” in Ecrits: The First complete edition in English (B. Fink, Trans.). New York: Norton. pp. 575-584.
Dean, Tim (2000) “How to read Lacan” in Beyond sexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press pp. 22-60.
Freud, Sigmund (1925). “Some psychical consequences of the anatomical distinction between the sexes” in SE, 19: 248-258.
——. (1923). The infantile genital organization. SE 19: 141-145.
Riviere, J. Womanliness as a masquerade. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol 10, 1929, 303-313.
Mitchell, J., & Rose, J. (Eds.). (1985). Introduction I and Introduction II in Feminine sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the École Freudienne. London: Macmillan.
Class 2, Thursday May 29, 2014: Wrapping Up the Object of Desire: Agalma and Transference
Lacan, Seminar VIII: Transference [1960-1], trans. Cormac Gallagher, unpublished manuscript. Classes 10 (Feb. 1, 1961), 11 (Feb. 8, 1961), 12 (March 1, 1961). (http://www.lacaninireland.com)
Lacan, Presentation on Transference in Lacan, J. (2006). Ecrits: The First complete edition in English (B. Fink, Trans.). New York: Norton. pp. 176-185.
Freud, S. (1901/1905). Fragment of an analysis of a case of hysteria, in J. Strachey (Ed. & Trans.), The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 7, pp. 1–122). London: Hogarth Press.
Plato’s Symposium, last pages (after Alcibiades arrives).
Class 3, Thursday June 19, 2014: To Lack the Lack: Anxiety and the Object a
Lacan, Seminar Book X, On Anxiety 1962-1963, trans. Cormac Gallagher, unpublished manuscript. Classes of Jan 16, 23, March 6, 1963. (http://www.lacaninireland.com) English version published by Polity Press forthcoming March 31, 2014.
Freud, S. (1920). “The psychogenesis of a case of homosexuality in a woman.” In J. Strachey (Ed. & Trans.), The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 18, pp. 145–172). London: Hogarth Press.
Harari, Roberto. Lacan’s Seminar on Anxiety: An Introduction, Other Press, New York, 2001, pp. 29-86.
Class 4, Thursday June 26, 2014: Good for Nothing, or (a)sexuality
Lacan, Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis [1963-1964], ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan, 1981, pp.174-186.
Lacan, J. (1998b). The seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book XX. On the limits of love and knowledge, 1972–1973 (J. A. Miller, Ed. & B. Fink, Trans.). New York: Norton, pp. 78-103.
Antonio Quinet, “The Gaze as an object” in Reading Seminar XI, Lacan’s Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, R. Feldstein, B. Fink and M. Jaanus, editors, SUNY Press, 1995, pp. 139-147.
Ellie Ragland, “The Relation Between the Voice and the Gaze” in Reading Seminar XI, Lacan’s Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, R. Feldstein, B. Fink and M. Jaanus, eds. 1995, pp. 187-203.