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Just as the real, according to Lacan, is irreducible to the true, the semblant is not to be confused with the false. Furthermore, the traditional philosophical hierarchy is radically displaced by Lacan, since two terms that at first glance seemed to constitute a radical opposition in fact present a continuity. To cite a few typical Lacanian inversions and paradoxes: “the fantasy is the principle of reality,” “truth is a semblance,” and last but not least, jouissance, which may well be situated in the register of the real, “is questioned, evoked, tracked, and elaborated only on the basis of a semblance.”13 Oddly enough, these paradoxes are in accordance with the structure of the Freudian libido insofar as the drive’s satisfaction itself depends on lures and deceptions. The precious indications of the intimate relation between the mode of jouissance and the semblants of the social Other can thus be found in Freud’s article, “‘Civilised’ Sexual Morality,” in which he brings to light a zone that is beyond the obvious antagonism between the “demands of civilization” and the real of the drive.
Freud was indeed the first to situate the symptomatic dimension of the modes of enjoyment as a mark of civilization’s malaise. While criticising the ruthlessness of the cultural demand, which involves a repression of drivejouissance, Freud points out that the growing difficulties of the sexual relation resulting from “the domination of a civilised sexual morality” can lead only to a promotion of “other modalities” of sexual practice. As a matter of fact, according to Freud, “it is not difficult to suppose that under the domination of a civilised sexual morality the health and efficiency of single individuals may be liable to impairment and that ultimately this injury to them, caused by the sacrifices imposed on them, may reach such a point that, by this indirect path, the cultural aim in view will be endangered as well.”14 Hence it is possible to say that the relation between semblants and psychoanalysis was from the outset marked by a profound ambiguity. The advent On the Path of the Semblant of psychoanalysis, by revealing behind moral and social ideals the presence of the libido—thus showing that the moral of castration is in itself a mode of jouissance, since the drive attains its satisfaction not despite its renunciation but because of it—provoked a tremendous shake up of the moral and social ideals of the epoch. Lacan in his later teaching qualified these ideals precisely as semblants in order to highlight their fictitious character in relation to what really matters to the subject: the real of jouissance and its grappling with it.
Lacan continues in this vein, taking up Freud’s idea of the social dimension of the symptom since, in Chapter V of his Encore seminar, “Aristotle and Freud: the other satisfaction,” he insists that “reality is approached with apparatuses of jouissance” since “there’s no other apparatus than language”;
indeed, it is in this way, Lacan continues, that “language is fitted out in speaking beings.”15 In saying that, for a speaking being, language is an apparatus of jouissance through which reality is approached, Lacan clearly rejects as utterly erroneous the idea of a jouissance that would be prior to reality. How is, then, this enigmatic thesis, according to which language itself is identified with the apparatus of jouissance to be understood?
Miller provides us with the following interpretation based on the notion
of the apparatus, which puts emphasis on the instrumental use of language:
“When one says that reality is approached by apparatuses, this means that there is an instrumental aspect to it. On the one hand, in the approach to reality through apparatuses of jouissance there is the idea of the construction of a fiction, and on the other hand the idea that this fiction is operational, that this fiction is an instrument which is used. What is it used for? Well, I think that it serves to constitute the fantasy.”16 That is to say, if the reality of the speaking being is ultimately fantasmatic, this is because language as such is an apparatus of jouissance. There is no other access to reality but through language which is in itself instrumentalized, finalized in view of a special goal: to serve jouissance. In other words, the perspective of language as an apparatus is precisely the perspective of the “semblant making” of the symbolic. It is from the perspective of the apparatus of jouissance that the status of language—indeed, the symbolic as such—is radically modified: situated within the category of the apparatus, language instead of being perceived as a means to secure access to the real, is envisaged instead in terms of the semblant slaving in the service of jouissance.
However, for Freud, as well as for Lacan, there are two apparently contradictory faces of the semblant that are nonetheless bound together. That is what Lacan in particular insists on: as an artful device the semblant can be considered both as a path to accede to the real, as well as a defence against the real. Not surprisingly, this duplicity of the semblant lends itself to two opposing interpretations. According to the first, the semblant is primarily an artifice useful for triggering a misrecognition or for erecting a barrier against the real of jouissance; according to the second, however, the semblant 208 Penumbra is nothing but a suppletory device, be it imaginary or sublimatory, destined to support the drive’s satisfaction.
Taking its cue from these two contradictory readings of the semblant, Lacanian psychoanalysis seeks to rethink the real proper to the analytic experience. This would seem to require a new concept of the real which would allow it to come up with a more precise definition of that which is both the proper target and the main tool in psychoanalysis: the symptom. What is called the symptom in psychoanalysis is namely the way the subject invents its relation to the real of jouissance. Hence, there is no subject without a symptom since everyone has his or her own symptomatic way of complying with the demands of civilization, i.e., through the impossible.
THE REAL, PLAGUED BY SEMBLANTSThe re-examination of the concept of the real is urgent for a psychoanalysis that is oriented towards it yet proposes to approach it from the perspective of the semblant. It is urgent in terms of creating the concepts it cannot do without in order to situate and circumscribe the real such as it is encountered in the analytic experience but also in redefining the aims of psychoanalysis.
Following Freud, Lacan takes up his idea of the role of psychoanalysis in guiding the subject through the evolution of the semblants of civilization since the mutation of the Other of civilization leads to a modification of the form and usages of jouissance: “Psychoanalysis has played a role in the guidance of modern subjectivity, and it would not know how to support it without organising it in accordance with the movement in science that elucidates it.”17 Clearly, what justifies this guiding role assigned to psychoanalysis is nothing other than the aspiration, shared by Freud and Lacan, that psychoanalysis, just like science, would be a discourse which is not founded on the semblant but on the real. There is, however, a price to pay for this special alliance between science and psychoanalysis. It is in the name of the real that psychoanalysis made it its business to shake the social Other. But once the Other is degraded, downgraded to a mere semblant, the real itself becomes a question to which only uncertain, contradictory, and inconsistent answers can be given. As we can witness today, the inexistence of the Other implies that everything is a semblant, thus entailing a loss of fundamental references and, moreover, the refusal of the real itself.18 In his seminar purposively entitled L’Autre qui n’existe pas et ses comités d’éthique (The Other Which does not Exist and its Ethical Committees), Miller characterises our world as a world of semblants in which the meaning of the real itself has become a problem. The contemporary subject is immersed in the world of semblants produced by none other than the discourse destined to fix the real for us: the discourse of science. With the concept of the inexistent Other, Miller throws precisely the crisis of the real into relief; in other words, he draws the real with which science is concerned ever closer to the On the Path of the Semblant status of the semblant. Ironically, the progress of science has “succeded” in plaguing the real with its semblants, blurring in this way the distinction between the real and the semblant and, ultimately, shattering the real itself as the fixed reference.19 Suffice it to recall all the gadgets which seem to have taken control of our lives and which are, in effect, a materialization of science’s hallucinations. There are two structural consequences to be drawn from this generalised “semblantization” which results from the progress of science: by increasing the possibility of limitless semblant-making, contemporary science has destroyed the fixation of the real. But the discourse of science is equally responsible for the decline of the social Other: insofar as science is, by structural necessity as it were, limitless, it cannot but erode the previous limitations and obstacles set in its way by the ideals of civilization.
In bringing to light the necessary correlation of the inexistence of the Other and the problematization of the real, Miller also points out that the question of the use of semblants appears to have no raison d’être and is actually in vain, inoperative, once the real vacillates. This is precisely the reason why Lacan, in his later teaching, strives to show that, at least from the perspective of psychoanalysis, the inexistence of the Other and the real are not mutually exclusive but, on the contrary, correlative. Given the importance of this reelaboration of the concept of the real for the very existence of psychoanalysis, it becomes imperative for Lacan to break with the scientific paradigm and its concept of the real. The very logic of Lacan’s gesture—to tie psychoanalysis to the real as its point of reference, as its compass—requires that he make a sacrifice of that concept of the real which has inspired him throughout all of his teaching: the real as that which always returns to the same place, reliable, law-like, law-abiding, as it were. Yet there still remains the problem of elaborating a new conception of the real proper to psychoanalysis, a radical, unheard-of conception, insofar as the real is now considered to be that which ignores all the rules of the game, an utterly erratic, deceiving, “lawless real,” in short, a caprice incarnate.20 It is in view of this final elaboration of the real that we propose to reread the precious indications given by Lacan in Television regarding the question of jouissance in the context of the absence of the Other. Here we witness the emergence of a central distinction, on the basis of jouissance, between the object a and the Ideal: thus, whereas Ideals always have something of a delusion about them, the object a brings out the real of jouissance, its irresolvable impasse. Here Lacan puts the accent on the fact that, with the decline of the Other, there is nothing to prevent “our jouissance going off track,” as he puts it.
“The Other does not exist” implies, as Lacan underlines it, that“our mode of jouissance” takes “from now on […] its bearings from the ‘surplus-jouissance.’”21 This shows not only a pluralization of modes of jouissance but also that there is no defence against the real here as there is no Other to lead the subject through the maze of jouissance.
210 Penumbra However, by linking the contemporary impasse of jouissance to the inexistence of the Other, Lacan also casts a new light on what is meant by a role that he previously attributed to psychoanalysis, namely, to be “the guidance of modern subjectivity.” Indeed, what place falls to psychoanalysis when the social Other itself strives to inscribe modes of jouissance—which Freud already considered to be symptoms of civilization—while assuring them a wholly new legitimacy and promoting the rules instituting the norms of their integration?
To inscribe contemporary modes of jouissance in the current context of the social bond, that is to say in an epoch in which the figure of the Other and its Ideals are declining, it is necessary to account for the substitution that has occurred at the level of that which situates jouissance within the social bond.
There are two ways in which jouissance can be situated: first, by setting up the agent of castration; second, on the contrary, through the investment of the remainder, the plug of castration, what Lacan termed surplus-jouissance, plus-de-jouir. It is precisely at this level that Lacan’s remark that “our jouissance […] takes its bearings from the ‘surplus-jouissance’” 22 takes on its full value.
What Lacan calls “our jouissance” is exactly the contemporary mode of jouissance in an epoch in which the Other does not exist, a jouissance which cannot therefore be situated by means of the Ideal. Jouissance today is not situated by means of the master signifier; it is not located on the side of the annulment of jouissance, but rather is situated on the side of surplus-jouissance as a stopper of castration.
What is new is that today, instead of being forbidden by the Ideal, jouissance is on the contrary commanded. What has changed is the way in which mass production, through its imperative “Consume!” proposes jouissance as a semblance for everybody. This phenomenon, which Miller describes as “haunting the surplus-jouissance,” creates the illusion that through the good use of the object a, surplus-jouissance, we could achieve complete drive-satisfaction. We can thus talk today of the primacy of the object a over the Ideal which, in turn, is denounced as a mere semblant. The epoch of the inexistent Other is at the same time the epoch of the limitless production of semblants.
Thus, it could be argued that the primacy of surplus-jouissance goes hand-inhand with the generalized “semblantification” where there is nothing to keep jouissance in check.