Phallus as power! – Phallus as language!

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Instead of the shared human experience of nuanced words and creative art, games and individualistic gadgets have filled the void with their repetitive usage by addictive button pressing, promising the reward and comfort of more of the same: enter candy-crush, FB, The Witcher, soda-stream, Nespresso, coke dispensers! Cue gadgets to pine for, to choose, to contemplate, to buy, to replace with a new shiny upgrade until the consumer, consumed by them, feels inadequate and so the cycle begins again! The repetitive want for something else, the choosing, the contemplating, the hankering, the buying. As our senses are dulled, art itself appears marginalised. The letter and lick of a stamp is replaced by emoticons, jargon and moving screen-savers. Have you backed up, saved, locked your work with encryption?


This “Jouissance en toc” (Lacan 2007, p.188) is a shoddy, phony or pseudo jouissance where the world is replete with gadgets and where words have often become the poor cousin, a goggled doppelganger, unoriginal parroted wort-vorstellungen, (word-presentations), texted shorthand – or fasthand. Here language per se has become tone-deaf. Even an exploration of the pre-conscious-conscious mind, a contemplation of sachvorstellungen, (“thing-presentations”) is suffocated by the rush of time and hand to mouth immediacy of products that placate and comatose. Žižek writes about the “unfathomable excess” of the Other that has provided products deprived of their malignant “exciting” properties: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol…virtual sex as sex without sex. Political correctness has led us to “tolerant liberal multiculturalism as an experience of the Other deprived of its Otherness – the decaffeinated Other.” In this way the “traumatic Kernel” of the Other is left aside. We engage with a representation or choose to disengage and perhaps read a “re-blogged blog” of a blog.

With more political correctness we have policed our own minds. Our days are so filled with the need to use and pursue ‘stuff’ that perhaps our clogged vocabularies are taking a back seat. We have less foot-room to move in. Our words are constricted by keyboard character limits. Our minds have a limited excess-baggage allowance. Our time gives less permission for musing upon that gap of the unthought: before thoughts are born. Lacan deemed writing un appui à la pensée, a support for thought. Musing is a powerful ally, where words are mightier than the sword, double edged sharp or blunt. The pen is the staff of Moses which when let to slip becomes the snake. A lapus calami, or slip of the pen! Language is beautiful, cathartic. And what is “la langue” (the tongue or code) without “lalangue”, without that special dimension of onomatopoeia, metaphor, metonym that raises signifiers from an initial trace into an energy drive: the recipe for jouissance.

In psychoanalysis “knowledge is under construction” (Lacan S.XX1) and the psychoanalyst risks getting entangled in the Lacanian Borromean knot because the separation of langue with lalangue is impossible. For the speaker, analysand, or parlêtre, the tanglement of ‘jouissance-saturated’ meanderings of lalangue are the essence of the symptom. Lalangue resists an immediacy of meaning – it challenges by evading the communication of a simple symbolic representation. In the symptomatic moments of lalangue, language becomes owned by idiosyncrasy. It entertains the speaker and listener, the writer and/or the reader by provoking an enjoyment.

Milner in (Arrivé, 1992) states: “Thus everything seems simple: lalangue is real, langage is imaginary, langue is symbolic. And yet everything is very complicated: in the literal sense, for we are dealing with layers piled one upon another” (1983, p.40). In “Rome’s ‘ Speech” Lacan places the problematic of the unconscious in a concept defined by the rules of “langage” stating `the unconscious is the speech of others’. Is this not how the representations of our world come home to haunt us? And isn’t it part of our humanity to share our personal representations and some still get a kick out of the marks we make. Badiou (2009, p.133) references Miller’s vanishing entity or the inconsistent totality:

It is only when the mark disappears that its place appears, and therefore the mark as such. Is this enough to justify our saying that it attains its being only in its disappearance – that it takes hold only on the border of its lack – in a flash? (…) the being of the mark just like that of lack, “exists” only in the in-between, incorporeal, ungraspable, or in the difference between the one and the other, in the movement, in the passage, and it is always either too early or too late. (…) This process – this entity – presents itself as untotalizable – or a contradictory totality, which is to say, a totality with its contradiction, or with its non-integrable element, multiplicity irreducible to a unity. (…) The mark (…) doesn’t consist (it is inconsistent,) it persists, insists, it is a process. 26

Milner, et., al, (2015, p.33) in For the Love of Language and at the risk of pressing the point for too long,

“linguistics is never sad, that adjective which in French suggests the pathetic, the depressing. For linguistics has its thrill peculiar to it. That every true linguist knows, and if it cannot be transmitted directly to another, it can be read, can be reactivated, for those who are able and persistent enough to decipher it, in the formal intricacies of linguistic argumentation, whenever they successfully touch the real, whenever lalangue yields to the linguist a glimpse of the knowledge of language.”

Nevertheless, whether it be through the word or the gadget, Lacan’s symbolic order is our “translator” it is our cultural lens with which we understand and communicate in our subjective world. Its effect is first felt as our principle carer interprets our wants and needs. In those early years the presence, the gaze, the “attachment” and often telepathic servitude of our carer, the nebenmensch, is slowly exchanged for the efficacy of words over mollycoddling acts and pacifying gadgets. The satisfaction – that dwells in the first primary object, the first jouissance, Fink’s J1, derived from the archetypal infant-carer – is cut. Here a distinction is necessary between the jouissance of the body that can be summed up in the expression enjoying oneself and phallic jouissance, that of the “speaking being” as epitomised by lalangue in the previous section. It is not weaning but the teaching of language dependent on the first words that serve to sever the infant’s intense libidinal investment obstructing its object cathexis and stifling the symbiotic mother-child relationship. This castration from the mother brings about the primordial state of loss as the harmony of the infant is being fractured by the introduction of language. Lacan insists that the phallus is a signifier. It is not an image or bodily organ but a metaphor for power, particularly the power of language. Once the individual immerses in it, they become cut-off or castrated.

It may be poignant to reiterate here that it is not that “the pen is a metaphorical penis” (Showalter, 1981, p187, in Jeftić, 2011)) rather the pen is the metaphor for language, in the sense that it wields the power: power of marketing, writing, discourse and communication. This phallic jouissance, jouissance of the word, Fink’s J2, is born in childbirth to create the first hommelette Lacan, Seminar, XI, , p. 197-198.. Jeftić, (2011) explains this as “the dual nature of the ego that is broken into two halves like the egg, to the m(O)ther, the symbol of creation and new discourse. The main sense of jouissance is not only the pure, simple pleasure, it is also the surplus of pleasure that arised from the prohibition.” Jeftić in Epiphany: Journal of Transdisciplinary Studies,Vol. 4, No. 1, (2011, p.69). Later the borromeanknocker will return to Lacan’s concept of “hommelette” or little man, in an attempt to unpick an understanding of the lamella.

The realm of language as the “law” cuts subjects off from immediate bodily (somatic) experience because now all relations are mediated by words and representations. Frustratingly word-representations can never perfectly depict the first hand somatic experience, there is always a short-fall. Castration is complete when the child recognizes lack in the mother. Her maternal omnipotence is annulled as the infant realises s/he is not the focus of the mother’s desire. The paternal “No” Non (No) and Nom (Name) introduces “the law” of prohibition – (parents have lives, work, friendships, commitments and not least a need for privacy/intimacy) indicating that the life of the couple is off limits and out of bounds to the infant who is faced with a multitude of signifiers to assimilate. These signifiers stem from the wider world or authority of the “big Other” introducing public convention and the communal property of a multitude of signifieds. Signifieds as representations that lead us further into the symbolic: representations of representations of representations yet strangely to rarely become lost in translation.pen mightier than sword

The prohibiting function is upheld by Lacan’s “name of the father” a symbolic father as an authoritative figure recognised as being of either gender but taking a dominant patriarchal role. This “law of the father” is where boundaries are created and negotiated through speech, pivoting around power, command and abeyance. Lacan’s idea that sexual difference is not biologically innate but established through language and law is not framed as social constructionism rather indicative of: individual identity, social bonds and the instable drives that attach us to people. As transgenderism becomes more polemic the phallo-centric dominatrix of ideals reinforce the power of certain groups. On acquiring language and entering the symbolic order, an individual is seen and constructed as language as well as by language, they may take a phallic power role: that of historical masculinity with a sense of having the phallus of power e.g. Margaret Thatcher. Or they may take the more seemingly submissive reclining feminine role of being the phallus: the one who attracts, dazzles, who draws the power bearer, becoming the flower for the honey bee, or the queen for its workers, master to its follower(s), who live to serve.

Even without considering this added Lacanian “sexuation” in our commune with others, it is never possible to be wholly understood. We can never be certain that our explanations reach the nub, or hit the mark: the bullseye. There is always a void, a gap between oneself and another self. The symbolic order opens an awareness of a constantly nagging absence. That je ne se quoi of something missing: the memory of that first perfect cathexis with the mother or the word that misinterprets vorstellung, that just misses the lived experience. This hole in our lives creates our drive, our search toward adequately finding a shape that fits the missing gap. Our desire is in the pursuit of an objet a, this something to want, to hanker over and yearn for, to aim for. And it is the steadying of the aim that propels us forward not the accuracy of hitting the bullseye. Zizek reiterates how Drive “knows” that the shortest way to attain its aim is to circulate around its goal-object.

(Zizek states, “One should bear in mind here Lacan’s well-known distinction between the aim and the goal of drive: while the goal is the object around which drive circulates, its (true) aim is the endless continuation of this circulation as such.”)

iceberg culture.pngIn Seminar XVii, 33 Lacan alludes to our accumulation of signifying chains, our veritably bulging cornucopia of meanings. And this of course pre-dating our google thesauraus of words or creative commons of images in flickr. Lacan muses on the quantity of signifiers. It seems helpful here to view the topographic illustration of Freud’s View of the Human Mind as a Mental Iceberg. Indeed we may make comparisons with the iceberg concept of culture and Ernest Hemingway’s belief that the truth in writing is not evident from the surface story because the depths lie below the surface. Lacan considered the unconscious to be “structured like a language” and perhaps the complexity of this notion requires an extra moment – because language is responsible for smothering of the subject as it disappears in an aphanasis behind the signifier. However can I ever describe what I wish to evoke! Once freed from me it is out-there – set loose to be read or heard however inadequately.

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