Report of the 14th International Seminar of the Freudian Field
THE LACANIAN BODY AND ITS OBJECTS
Presented by Vicente Palomera
New York - January 2008
Vicente Palomera, Ph.D. returned to New York City to speak about “The Lacanian Body and It’s Objects”. He began with an evening’s lecture entitled “Civilization and It’s Objects, Lies and Disorders” during which he discussed the prophetic Capitalist Discourse of Lacan introduced in 1970 and its relevance to the contemporary social and cultural conditions of the twenty-first century.
The following review of the material presented by Dr. Palomera focuses on his ambitious discussion of Lacanian theory as it affects the work of the clinician. From the onset Dr. Palomera explained that his presentation represents his understanding and interpretation of the work of Lacan and those who have written about and employ Lacan’s thinking. His manner of presentation reveals the challenge one undertakes to understand the Lacanian material, the reward resulting from the effort, and the creativity needed to communicate difficult concepts.
Dr. Palomera makes clear that the troubled person who enters the office of the clinician is often a person suffering from feelings of loneliness, emptiness, and meaninglessness. In all likelihood this is a person whose symptom is not working so well as in the past, when adaptation was more endurable. To introduce the body, the partial drives, and the space just beyond the limits of the body but so near to serve as an envelope, Dr. Palomera reviewed the novel Ravissement de Lol V. Stein by Marguerite Duras discussed by Lacan. Dr. Palomera raises questions about the ethics of treatment. Among the questions were the following two examples: is treatment to foster a normal adaptation which may be suffocating and mortifying or is treatment to facilitate the examination of desire and jouissance that could put the subject at risk of psychosis?
The anguish of the contemporary Subject was explored by examination of Seminar X Anxiety. At issue was not the common every day variety of anxiety of “butterflies in the stomach” and “sweaty palms” but the anxiety of dread, angst, and anguish. Dr. Palomera wasted no time introducing the object a with the example of the lizard who will self mutilate in order to survive. It is not uncommon for the lizard to jettison the tail if caught or trapped. Hence the Subject in time of perceived danger, trauma, helplessness, dread, terror, or fear may separate from the threatening object or Other by giving up something. What is released, yet still there, are objects of fantasy. These objects may be outside the body but not so far outside that they pass the previously mentioned envelope surrounding the body. The “sacrifice” is made in order to live and to survive.
The Other is represented by the interpersonal Other who speaks and imparts language. In the course of living and becoming a Subject of civilization, culture, society, and the family, something is lost. The result is a lack in the Subject. When the Subject undertakes language and the signifier as symbolic or representative of the object, the tangible object is lost.
In the experience of psychoanalytic psychotherapy and/or psychoanalysis there is likely to be an examination of the anxiety. Anxiety is “not without an object”. Anxiety has an epistemic function which renders some degree of knowledge, when the subject goes through the anxiety and gets closer to the Real and, thereby, closer to danger. Anxiety is a signal, sign, warning, and indicator that the “object” is near. The subject and the object are homogeneous—the same. In his effort to address Freud’s “dangerous situations”, Lacan says in Seminar X that anxiety has already been experienced and represents a signal of a past moment. In this past the subject was defenseless, helpless, and in danger. With the experience of anxiety there is a threat of a repetition of the original trauma.
Dr. Palomera suggests that Lacan re-reads the “danger” Freud described. Lacan describes it as the proximal moment, when the object was first jettisoned. The anxiety occurs antecedent to the object that is released before the barred Other. This is an anxiety that is experienced as an enigma – and represents questions about the desire of the Other. What does the Other desire? What am I for the Other? In psychoanalysis the Subject examines these questions. Through the psychoanalysis it can be understood that the Subject releases (jettisons) the object a before the barred Other just as the lizard releases the tail in order to survive.
Though there is no lack of objects, only certain objects can be used in this sacrifice to preserve life. The five objects discussed in Seminar X by Lacan are varying forms of the object a. The five objects include the scopic, oral, anal, phallic, and vocal. The act of releasing the object is a solution to the experience of being threatened or the sense of being endangered by the Other. It is tantamount to separation, initiated by the Subject. This occurs at the level of fantasy and thereby begins the experience in life of feeling an emptiness, a void, and a primary sense of castration. In his discussion of the object in psychosis Dr. Palomera explained that because the object has not been released, extracted, or “separated” by the Subject, the psychotic is left “alienated”. Thus the object is stuck to the psychotic or “in the pocket”, as Lacan said. In contrast, when neurotics jettison or separate from the object, the object can circulate—i.e., the object can be gifted, given, and reciprocated. The cut or separation by the Subject from the object, releases the Subject from the demand of the Other—the all consuming Other. It is the “tail” (object a) or “your life”, as Lacan played with the logic in Seminar XI. Giving it up is a solution before a threat—a solution which is a separation.
Dr. Palomera reminds us that the jettison of the object is a fantasy. If the experience of helplessness is experienced and the object is given up, then separation is achieved as a choice and necessary function for survival. In psychosis the object a is not extracted. The vitality of the psychotic Subject is therefore questionable, because the fields of fantasy and reality are limited in their construction.
To flesh out yet further an understanding of the object a Dr. Palomera examined two differing components which had been discussed by Lacan. First, there is the agalma – the representation of that which is valued and desired—the beloved ancient female statue. Other representations include the golden pieces in the urn and Alcibiades’ description of the invaluable knowledge inside Socrates’ head. On the other hand, Lacan describes the palea, representing that which is dirty, waste, devalued. The object a contains all possibilities for human jouissance – the treasured, adored, sublime (algamic) and the dirty, remainder, waste (paleic). Dr. Palomera continued his effort to illuminate the “Lacanian Body and Its Objects” by introducing the “sinthome”as a “body event” and Lacan’s interest in James Joyce. He addressed the autobiographical character of Stephen in Joyce’s The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Joyce’s family life. Joyce’s detachment of libidinal energy from his body and his dissociation from his anger, rage, and aggression raised questions about the functioning of his ego. Joyce’s writing was what he valued most about himself, identifying himself as an artist who produced works that others would study, polish, and discuss for years after his death. His writing was both sinthome and sublimation.
Joyce provided Lacan with a new way of seeing the clinic. The Subject was not to be taken from the perspective of the registers of the Real, Imaginary, and Symbolic. Instead each Subject was to be seen as a new, individual case, beyond the clinical perspectives of neurosis, psychosis, and perversions. Furthermore, the Subject was to be appreciated for the continuity between the structures that reveal phenomena not clearly seen when only a “nominalist orientation” is employed. Thus “particularities” or the distinctiveness of every case was to be considered.
The later Lacan put the Other as locus of the signifiers aside and in its place he put the body. He associated woman, symptom and body. In Lacan’s new orientation there is a question: “For a man what is a woman?” For Lacan “Woman is a symptom of another body”.
However, not every woman is a symptom of the another body. Some women do not allow themselves to be a symptom of another body. Hysteria is said to be the symptom which interests the symptom of the Other. Dr. Palomera elaborated on these concepts. A measure of the efficacy of psychoanalysis is the extent to which the Subject enters the Symbolic order and the extent to which the Real is substituted by the Symbolic in the world of language. Existing within the Symbolic register is a universal task (for all Subjects) and accomplished by all Subjects on the basis of their individuality.
However, there is always something that fails in this confrontation with the Symbolic which Lacan takes up in the Seminar on the Ethics of Psychoanalysis. It was proposed that there is a nostalgia for something that existed before the symbolic, something we have not actually “known”, though we are children of the Symbolic even before we are born. This something is akin to a paradise that we have lost. We are destined to be captured by the Symbolic (delivered by the parental-Other) early on. This will place us in the locus of the Other –known as language. Palomera frames Lacan’s seminal question: Where might there have been a location for the Real world prior to the Symbolic? The answer was gleaned in the 1950’s as he prepared the Seminar “Ethics of Psychoanalysis” from his study of Freud’s discarded work, “Project for a Psychology for Neurologists”, which was preserved, perhaps by Hans Kris. In this work Freud discussed Das Ding which provided material for Lacan’s construction of the object a.
Building on Freud’s work Lacan said that it is through das Ding that the Real comes into play in the Symbolic. In the frequently encountered paradoxes it was said that if the Subject speaks following the psychoanalytic rule, the Subject will arrive at a place most intimate, uncanny, and strange, where there exists an internal law. This is a place in the Subject which is das Ding. Using the German language Dr. Palomera distinguishes how das Ding escapes the tangible and precedes “die Sache” and “das Wort”. Das Ding is before “die Sache which is the thing created by man’s activity. “Das Wort” is the word or signifier created to represent man’s activity and products. Das Ding precedes the activity of man and is outside the limits of understanding: e.g., thunder, earthquake, etc. Das Ding is the “true secret of every one of us…that escapes the symbolic”. The psychoanalytic clinic shows how das Ding (the “true secret”) can manifest in memories, escape the symbolic and make for madness. It shows how the analysand can accumulate bits from reality and work them through, so that their work results in beneficial effects. Subjectivation is the working through of these bits of reality relating to the Subject’s experiences and how they fit him or her. “Wirklichkeit” is the German word for “reality”, coming from the word “werk”, i.e., to work.
In Seminar VII on Ethics Lacan refers to reality as “something that functions” or works. Referring to the case of Little Hans Dr. Palomera illustrates Hans’ psychic reality in which his little sister Anna is lacking a penis like his, a penis for which he has a signifier. Thus he functions in the Symbolic. Unfortunately for Hans his perception or psychical reality does not “work”, because in the Real his little sister Anna lacks nothing.
Dr. Palomera insists that Psychoanalysis should not be confused with psychology. Psychoanalysis is not about accommodating ourselves to the world or finding our niches in the world. He cautions that the reality principle should not be confused with adaptation. The great discovery of psychoanalysis is identifying that which complicates adaptation. Dr. Palomera identifies that the complication is das Ding –something that does not adapt. Das Ding will become object a beginning with Lacan’s Seminar X On Anxiety. In the two cases presented by Gabriela Giuggioloni, CSW and Dinorah Otero, CSW, Dr. Palomera illuminates the problems of adaptation. These two cases and the clinical material presented by Dr. Palomera were used to consider Lacanian concepts in the formulation of the diagnosis, dynamics, and treatment.
Ms. Giuggioloni presented the case of a woman in a profound, recalcitrant depression whose daughter committed suicide. The patient’s suffering was relentless and her mourning merciless. Dr. Palomera suggested this patient could be helped by reframing her perspective. Ms. Giuggioloni provided a very comprehensive discussion of this patient’s complicated history of abuse, depression, and deprivation. The lively discussion contributed to the recognition that there are sometimes limits that constitute the frustration in the demanding work of psychotherapy and in life.
Dinorah Otero, CSW presented the case of a 10 year old boy, adopted with his twin brother by his foster parents. The richness of the therapy and the involvement of patient with therapist were clear from the start of treatment. The boy benefited from the treatment with improved adaptation. The involvement of the adoptive mother as the significant Other was addressed and was determined to warrant further attention. The discussion uncovered alternative ways of considering the clinical material.
Dr. Palomera suggested that in these two cases the object – das Ding-- resists, and adaptation is obstructed. The object “resists domestication” and “presents foreignness”. The object is something at the edge of the human experience. It is a challenge to the Symbolic and beyond the bounds of human experience. It is at the border and orients the experience of everyone at every step.
Dr. Palomera presented the clinical material of Ruth Kjar, a woman who could not feel because of her empty space. The work with Ruth was first discussed by Karin Michaeles--her psychoanalyst. The material was subsequently discussed by Melanie Klein in her paper, “Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in a Work of Art and the Creative Impulse”. Lacan then undertook a study of this case to address the differential diagnosis of melancholia and depression. He concluded that the wonder of psychoanalysis is illuminated by the case of Ruth Kjar, a woman, successfully treated, who complained of an empty space inside her and an inability to feel. Dr. Palomera undertook this case material to discuss das Ding of Freud which provided a foundation for Lacan’s object a..
Palomera begins with the view that das Ding — is that thing that inhabits all of us. Emptiness is not a symptom. Emptiness is the Subject. It is also a structural fact. When considered clinically the emptiness is a part of the Real, inherent in the Subject. For Ruth depression was a response to emptiness. The analyst works with the empty space that is the architecture (structure) of the Subject. Ruth’s case provides a means of considering depression from this “architectural” vantage point. In neurosis depression appears when what the barred Other lacks (the hole) reveals itself to the Subject. It is a consequence of a narcissistic bond. Depression occurs when the identifications that sustain the Subject are affected and when the transference is not on the side of the ego ideal but related to the object a. When the Subject is on the side of the ego ideal (narcissism) the Subject can find himself at first in the ideal ego. On the other hand, when the Subject is on the side of the object and the hole of the other as barred A, this emptiness is imposed on the Subject. When the imaginary identifications fail to support the Subject, frailty prevails, and depression follows.
In the case of the Ruth, the yet-to-be painter, there was transformation accomplished by sublimation. She produced a very fine painting for the space on the wall, left bare by removal of the “masterpiece” by its famous painter, her brother-in-law. By creating a painting for the empty space, Ruth extracted herself from the void and the empty space within her. The famous painter (her brother-in-law) was incredulous that the replacement painting was Ruth’s work.
Like other artists Ruth created and thereby transcended and separated herself from das Ding – the empty space. Joyce, the artist, represented for Lacan the symptomatic aspect of the sublimation of his horrors. In sublimatory art, the artist hides or veils emptiness and recovers the object. By painting the life-sized figure of the black woman for the empty space on the wall and in herself, the artist Ruth “metaphorized” the horror of das Ding.
In his final remarks Dr. Palomera invited his audience to consider Lacan’s observation that the artists’ satisfaction is not illusory. It has an object. The analyst and the artist are challenged to work …not with sublimation but… with the empty spaces.
I am reminded of my exchange with Dr. Palomera in October 2005 when I questioned him about the object a. His response justifies his enduring effort to comprehend the multi-dimensional richness in Lacan’s comprehension of the human condition and the personal and professional rewards attained from the efforts to understand. In his clear, informative but contemplative manner he told me this object a is a very difficult concept to explain, that he like others continue to try to make the concept comprehensible to themselves and others, and that he would make an effort to help me understand his thinking. Two years later as a witness to Dr. Palomera’s continued effort to share his understanding of the object a, those who study the work of Lacan appreciate that this is an important, evolving, and developing concept that has multiple dimensions and applications to facilitate the psychoanalytic work in 2008. While it helps the clinician to listen and encourage further expression by the Subject, eventually it becomes the mission of the Subject to seek understanding of his/her signifiers in order to get as close as possible to the jettisoned object that may give clues to the fundamental driving desires that shape and orient the Subject’s existence.
Summarized with Comments by Ellyn Altman, Ph.D.
VIth CONGRESS of the NLS
“The body and his objects in the Psychoanalytic Clinic
Ghent, 15-16 March 2008
VIème Congrès de la NLS
“Le corps et ses objets dans la clinique psychanalytique”
Gand, 15 et 16 mars 2008