Seminar XVII, given a year after the student uprisings in Paris, is the seminar in which Lacan introduces his theory of the four discourses—the four discursive arrangements of jouissance that constitute our social bonds and our subjectivity (or lack of it). It is in this seminar that he says he wants to ask the question about the place of psychoanalysis in relation to politics. Lacan’s thesis about this period of late capitalism is that there has been a shift in terms of the dominant social discourse, from what he names the Master’s discourse to that of the University discourse. The University discourse is characterized by the effacing of politics with totalitarian-style bureaucracy, and by the rise of universalism in the approach to (scientific) knowledge and the management of subjects that such universalization entails.
The most startling and brilliant essay of this collection is the first one, from Jacques-Alain Miller. It is entitled ‘On Shame’ and looks at the new relation between the subject and jouissance that is an effect of the change in discourse. Miller explores Lacan’s comment in Seminar XVII ‘There is no longer any shame’. The implication is that the new mode of social relations is one of hyper-permissiveness, in which there is an injunction to enjoy () as much as one wants, without the judging gaze of the Other in front of whom one might have once felt ashamed. Rather, one is encouraged to enjoy looking oneself.
Why did Lacan devote so much attention to a reading of Antigone? While it is difficult to do justice to the long commentaries that Lacan and Freeland have come with up on this topic, it will suffice in the space of this brief review if I can invoke at least two or three important reasons for this preoccupation with Antigone. What Antigone represents for Lacan is the dramatic experience of a limit and what it means for the subject to go beyond the boundaries of this symbolic limit. The term that Lacan invokes from Sophocles for this symbolic limit, as previously mentioned, is até. Antigone’s compulsive, transgressive, desire to bury her brother, Polynices, when she has been forbidden to do so by the edict of the tyrant, Creon, even at the cost of her own life is a specific instance of breaching the symbolic limits, of an encounter with the beyond of até. Most contemporary readers or patients, who respond to this tragedy with a notion of either the Aristotelian Good, or even a simplistic notion of the good in the everyday sense of the term, will simply not be able to make sense of the ethical or heroic elements that are being invoked in Antigone. They will find themselves in the locus of her sister Ismene who refused to participate in the burial of Polynices. This is because the notion of the Good is preoccupied with what is politically safe for the subject to do. The main task of the Chorus in the play is to explain what in fact is safe for the citizens to do. The Good is a way of orienting social life to prevent encounters with these limits of the symbolic on the part of the citizen lest his death instincts be triggered-off in a moment of excess. Likewise, for Creon, the ruler who forbids Antigone from burying Polynices, her dead brother, there is symbolic equivalence between Law and Reason; and Creon does not recognize any limit in his pursuit of the Law since, in his conception, he is himself in the locus of the State, and there is no gap for him (unlike in contemporary jurisprudence) between Law and Reason. This notion is fine as long as it is merely a philosophical assumption, but when Creon really begins to act on this assumption, he too is propelled beyond the moderate confines of the pleasure principle, and the tragedy begins to unravel for both Creon and Antigone who find themselves as the ethical equivalents of an irresistible force and an immoveable object (Sophocles, 1968). Neither was aware that they would both be caught up in the excess that their encounter would generate. Like most tragic protagonists, they are not fully aware of the situations in which they find themselves; and Lacan’s goal, as that of Freeland’s commentary, is to help us make sense of wherein lay the tragic element in their encounter.
As Lacan pointed out almost ten years prior to the seminars on the gaze, the fantasized gaze turns the subject into an object: ‘The gaze is not necessarily the face of our fellow being, it could just as easily be the window behind which we assume he is lying in wait for us. It is an x, the object when faced with which the subject becomes object.’ As this quotation suggests, the fantasy of an invisible, external gaze is not always reassuring.
Does it seem silly for Freud to talk about one's old man as a mythic figure out of ? Does penis envy seem even sillier, if not sexist? Fine. What matters is "the name of the father" and the social authority of men, with their darn "phallus." Lacan used that word, rather than "penis," to stress its symbolic, downright arbitrary nature.
the child slowly comes to realize that it is not identical to, or the sole object of, the mother's desire, as her desire is directed elsewhere.
The "Oedipus complex"
in Freud and Lacan: The key function in the Oedipus complex is that of the father, the third term which transforms the dual relation between mother and child into a triadic structure.
The Oedipus complex is thus nothing less than the passage from the imaginary order to the symbolic order, "the conquest of the symbolic relation as such.
That is to say, in Schelling's philosophy, (what previously was) a Being becomes a predicate of a higher Being; (what previously was) a Subject becomes an object of a higher Subject: an animal, for example, is immediately its own Subject, it is its living body, whereas man cannot be said to be his body, he merely has a body which is thus degraded to his predicate...
As a close reading of Lacan's text instantly attests however, the opposition we are dealing with is not that of being versus having, but rather the opposition of to have/to appear: woman is not the phallus, she merely appears to be to be phallus, and this appearing (which of course is identical with femininity qua masquerade) points towards a logic of lure and deception.
That noted, in the Lacanian version of the Oedipus complex, thematernal figure initially features for the infant as a Real Other(i.e., the Nebenmensch als Ding)—more specifically, asan obscure omnipotent presence who is the source of all-important love(more will be said about Lacan's concept of love—see below). But, because of the combination of her obscurity andimportance, the mother qua Real Other also is a source ofdeeply unsettling anxiety for the very young child. She seeminglythreatens her offspring with being alternately too smothering or toowithdrawn, too much or not enough. In his/her anxiousness aboutcontrolling the ultimately uncontrollable presence (and absence) ofthis mysterious and indispensable maternal Other, the child confrontsthe question, “What does the (m)Other want?” Theinfant's gradual formation of an ego as per the temporallyelongated processes delineated in Lacan's account of the mirrorstage (see above) is, in part, a response to this riddle (albeit ina broader sense, with the child constructing an ego-level identityinformed by the perceived wants of Others in addition to the mother,such as the father).
the fact that one is able to love his or her father is a result of castration The third 'time' of the Oedipus complex is marked by the intervention of the real father.
For Lacan, the Freudian Oedipus complex stages the drama of thechild's laborious struggles to situate him/her-selfvis-à-vis all three register-theoretic dimensions ofOtherness. Thanks particularly to what he takes from hisengagements with structuralism, Lacan, throughout his career, iscareful to avoid a pseudo-Freudian reification of the bourgeois nuclearfamily, with a mother and father biologically sexed female and malerespectively. The maternal and paternal Oedipal personas arepsychical-subjective positions, namely, socio-cultural (i.e.,non-natural, non-biological) roles that potentially can be played byany number of possible persons of various sexes/genders.
One is thus tempted to paraphrase Hegel again: everything hinges on our conceiving woman not merely as Substance but also as Subject, i.e., on accomplishing a shift from the notion of woman as a substantial content beyond male representations to the notion of woman qua pure topological cut that forever separates the "for the other" from the "in itself".
The asymmetry of the sexual difference resides in the fact that in the case of man we are not dealing with the same cut, we do not distinguish in the same way between what he is "in himself" and what he is 'for the other' qua masquerade.