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Hence, new practices of perversion, in Freud’s time considered to be scandalous, are today considered to be an opportunity for the innovation of new semblants in order to inscribe all these various new modes of jouissance. Indeed, it is these new modes of jouissance that present themselves today as a condition for inventing new modes of the social bond, new fictions in Bentham’s sense of the word, destined to secure the individual’s right to his or her particular mode of jouissance.

Paradoxically enough, psychoanalysis is not without responsibility for this disorientation of the contemporary subject in relation to jouissance since On the Path of the Semblant psychoanalysis has itself contributed to the undermining of ideals. Freud, like Bentham, detected behind the ideals of civilization the presence of the libido, i.e., the modes and the forms of jouissance since, for him, the superego testifies to a paradoxical satisfaction of the drive disguised as renouncement of satisfaction.

Yet something has radically changed insofar as today psychoanalysis seems to be oddly incapable of effecting a cut in the dominant discourse and of thereby undermining contemporary moral and social semblants. On the contrary, it seems to be a prolongation of this discourse; and it is precisely today, when psychoanalysis seems to be unable to disturb contemporary semblants and to fracture the dominant ideological discourse, that the antinomic relation between the semblant and the real is the decisive issue for psychoanalysis.

This is why, despite the fact that nothing appears to stop the expansion of the empire of semblants, psychoanalysis has to maintain the real as its compass. But in order to succeed, psychoanalysis has to rediscover once more as its proper place the interval between the real and the semblant. Thus, the present interrogation of the semblant stems from the urgency of advancing a new, i.e., “realist” orientation for psychoanalysis in an era in which the Other does not exist. Indeed, in an epoch in which the figure of the Other and its Ideals are declining, the question of the nature and the use of semblants in psychoanalysis looms larger than ever in the history of psychoanalysis.

At the beginning of the 21st century, when practices in which speech is used as a tool for absorbing the traumatism of the real have invaded contemporary utilitarian civilization, psychoanalysis is expected to radically distinguish itself from these practices. Whereas various psychotherapeutic practices set as their goal the patient’s well-being, psychoanalysis, on the contrary, aims at a radical subjective mutation which involves the subject’s separation from its identifications in order to become a response to the real.

Certainly, this orientation to the real is an extreme position. This is why taking the real seriously as a compass for psychoanalysis entails at the same time pushing psychoanalysis to its limits: not only beyond the Name-of-theFather, that semblant which, according to Freud, represents the unsurpassable horizon for psychoanalysis, but even further: beyond the Freudian unconscious itself. One is almost tempted to say that the price to be paid for the orientation of psychoanalysis toward the real is the downgrading of the concept of the unconscious.

However, if Lacan is driven so far as to break, at least at certain points, with the Freudian tradition, this is precisely in order to define psychoanalysis according to its proper logic, that is, beyond semblants. This break with Freud concerns first and foremost the status of the real in psychoanalysis. If the Name-of-the-Father, for Freud, is not a mere semblant, this is because it is but another name for the prohibition of jouissance. Like Freud, Lacan also 212 Penumbra draws the genealogy of the father from jouissance, but unlike Freud, he considers the prohibition as being but a retroactive rationalization of the sexual non-rapport. Hence, for Lacan, the father is not the name of the obstacle in the way of jouissance, but rather a semblance masking an irreducible gap in the very structure of jouissance. Indeed, today the Name-of-the-Father proves to be incapable of mastering, dominating the real at stake: the real of jouissance.

This is because, as Lacan’s later teaching is destined to show, the fact that the interdiction of jouissance is today replaced by its permission has no bearing on the inherent impasse of jouissance.

But the price to be paid for the radical orientation toward the real also implies, as has been underlined by Jacques-Alain Miller, a downgrading of the unconscious to the extent that “the unconscious itself appears as a response made to the real, at the level of the semblant, a response to the hole in the real [due to the fact that there is no sexual relation], a response which has to do with the vain effort to make the absence of sexual programming signify at the level of the real.” 23 One of the unexpected, indeed, paradoxical consequences of such a radical position was that this reference to the real appears as a problematic as well as a problematizing reference in Lacan. At the end of his teaching, Lacan even suggests that the status of the real is that of the symptom, a deduction made from the unconscious: that is to say, the notion of the real, in the last analysis, is nothing more than his invention.

However, if the question of the real poses itself to Lacan so persistently in the final period of his teaching, this is precisely because the real proper to the analytic experience is now considered to be resisting signifierization, i.e., conversion into the symbolic. In view of such a radicalized conception of the real, both the imaginary and the symbolic appear as mere make-believe. Yet it is precisely this question of the real as being both outside the imaginary and the symbolic that prompts Lacan to entertain the hope of a psychoanalysis which would not be founded on the semblant. By naming his seminar consecrated to the question of the semblant, “Of a Discourse Which Would Not Be of the Semblant,” Lacan seems to be nourishing and encouraging the mere hope of the possible elaboration of a discourse that would not be reducible, unlike the rest of them, to a mere semblant but would rather be a discourse of the real. To the extent that the symbolic is now seen to be downgraded to the order of the semblant this seminar, which evokes the possibility of a discourse that would take its departure point from the real, thus signals a turning point and a perspective shift in Lacan’s teaching insofar as, at the outset, Lacan proposed to ground psychoanalysis as a discourse on the symbolic. It is at this point in Lacan’s later teaching, when psychoanalysis is ordered by the relations of the semblant and the real, that a large part of Lacan’s theorization, which had been deployed in the register of the symbolic, appears to be reduced to the mere status of semblance: sicut palea.

On the Path of the Semblant The opposition of the real and semblance is therefore a crucial step in the development of Lacan’s teaching: it is a radicalization of the opposition, introduced in his seminar on The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, between the real on one hand and the symbolic, and the imaginary on the other. It could be said that, from the point of view of the real, the symbolic and the imaginary appear to be equivalent. Yet this opposition between the real and the semblant became a structuring opposition only when Lacan had constructed the four discourses.

In a sense, it is only from the perspective of the semblant that one can realize that what creates an impasse here is that, actually, the cleavage between the signifier and jouissance was surreptitiously created by Lacan’s proper definition of the subject. Conceived in terms of the signifier—the subject is what one signifier represents for another signifier—the Lacanian subject is essentially empty, dead, devoid of “enjoying substance,” severed from jouissance. The outcome of this irreducible disjunction between the subject of the signifier and the real of jouissance entails the coupling of the empty subject with the remainder of jouissance: the object a. With the object a as an answer to the lack of the signifier, Lacan inscribed in what he called the four discourses a real that is within the reach of the subject of the signifier


Psychoanalysis is based on the assumption that the treatment of the real, more specifically the real of jouissance, by the signifier is only possible within the framework of discourse—not just any discourse, of course, but that which is able, like Freud’s, to be “maintained as close as possible to what is related to jouissance”24—one whose pivotal point is the relation between the signifier and jouissance. Indeed, from the perspective of the relation between the signifier and jouissance, the task of the analyst’s discourse is to expose the surreptitious alliance between the signifier and jouissance as constitutive of any social bond.

Lacan’s definition of discourse as a social bond can thus be understood also in the sense that it is a bond between the signifier and jouissance.

The elaboration of the four discourses is for Lacan an opportunity to revisit his initial departure point, the disjunction between the signifier and jouissance, in such a way that, behind the overt antithesis between signifier and jouissance, their clandestine solidarity is revealed. Before the signifier could be situated in the order of the semblant, it was therefore necessary for Lacan to expose the duplicity of the signifier: the signifier which was initially defined by Lacan through the exclusion of jouissance, as a barrier against jouissance, is revealed to be an apparatus of jouissance.25 Indeed, there is a dialectic of lack and supplement at work in the relation between the signifier and jouissance.

On the one hand, the signifier involves the loss of jouissance, its annulment;

on the other, this very loss, as an effect of the signifier, responds to the supplement of jouissance termed by Lacan the object a, surplus-jouissance. Thus it 214 Penumbra could be said that the loss of jouissance produced through the signifier is the condition of possibility for repetition, encore, once more, again and again, and it is precisely through this repetition that a surplus is produced. Hence, the lesson to be drawn from the seminar The Other Side of Psychoanalysis is that the loss of jouissance and surplus-jouissance, plus-de-jouir, are both produced through the functioning of the signifier; and it is in view of this dialectic of loss and surplus that the signifier appears as a semblance, that is to say, as a defensive device masking the real of the drive while at the same time supporting the jouissance of castration.

However, if the signifier is downgraded to the status of the semblant, then the question arises of whether psychoanalysis can have any bearing on the real of jouissance. Indeed, how can it touch on drive-satisfaction if it deals with drives only to the extent that they are present in words? Taking on board the impossibility of an immediate relation to the real, Lacan goes a step further.

He claims that the experience of analysis proves that “there is something in the signifier that resonates,” that “the drives are the echo in the body of the fact that there is saying,”26 and that “for this saying to resonate, to be consonant, the body has to be sensitive to it.”27 In psychoanalysis, the real of jouissance is broached from the mark of saying, from the effect produced on the body by saying, a mark which is invisible yet which proves to be legible. This is precisely what the master’s discourse reveals: in the master’s discourse, the dominant or commanding position is filled by S1, also called the master signifier. As such, it embodies the alienating function of the signifier to which the speaking being is subject. If the analyst’s discourse is the other side, the inverse of the master’s discourse, this is because the discourse of the unconscious, just like the discourse of the master, is governed by a master signifier. In the master’s discourse, the subject finds its identification within the Other. There is always a master signifier there that hooks him up.

Thus, the matrix of the discourse which borrows its name from the place of the agent or the master signifier, S1, discloses how this mark of saying dominates the subject. As has been pointed out by Miller, this mark of saying, S1, is able to “confiscate the representation of the subject”28 to the extent that it seems to absorb the subject. As a result, the subject appears to be indistinguishable from the mark.

In the analyst’s discourse, the place in the upper left-hand corner of Lacan’s quadripartite structure, the place of the agent, is attributed to the psychoanalyst in so far as s/he assumes the function of the object a, i.e., the place of the plus-de-jouir, surplus-jouissance. This particular property of the analyst’s discourse singles out the place of the agent as equivalent to the semblant. Indeed, semblant is the name by which Lacan designates this place of the agent or “dominant” place, as he calls it, in all four discourses. On this

point, the following quotation from his seminar Encore is decisive:

On the Path of the Semblant Before the semblance, on which, in effect, everything is based and springs back in fantasy, a strict distinction must be made between the imaginary and the real. It must not be thought that we ourselves in any way serve as a basis for the semblance. We are not even semblance. We are, on occasion, that which can occupy that place, and allow what to reign there? Object a.

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