New Spring Semester for the Lacan Guided Reading Group

It is time for a new semester at the Lacan Guided Reading Group. Our spring semester will begin on the 5th of March (19:15) and, as was festively announced last week, will involve the reading of two chapters in Lacan’s Seminar XX: On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge (Encore)  (1972-1973).

(Collage: Jorge Chamorro)

“The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?’” (Freud)

Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) was a French psychiatrist who has been dubbed the most controversial psychoanalyst since Freud. Calling for a “return to Freud” in mid 20th century Europe, Lacan had re-conceptualized psychoanalysis in such ways that deeply impacted psychotherapy and philosophy up until this day. One of the major topics Lacan chose to penetrate in his teaching is the notion of sexual difference. Freud, in his account of sexual difference, argued that the whole range of human sexuality is solely determined on the basis of the phallus. Accordingly, he inferred that there is only one form of libido—masculine libido. Going beyond Freud’s rendition of feminine libido in his notion of “penis envy,” Lacan provided a subversive account of a singular form of feminine enjoyment in his teaching. He argued that, while masculine subjects only have access to phallic enjoyment (“enjoyment of the Idiot”), feminine subjects are “not-all” (pas-tout) subsumed by the phallus and have access to another form of enjoyment “beyond the phallus.” Lacan’s Seminar XX is devoted to the exploration of such an evasive mode of enjoyment that Freud found it impossible to know anything about. 

In the Lacan Guided Reading Group, we will trace Lacan’s train of thought concerning masculine and feminine enjoyment by reading two chapters from this seminar entitled: “God and Woman’s Jouissance” and “A Love Letter.” What is an enjoyment beyond the phallus? What is so mystifying about feminine enjoyment? And what is knowledge of sexual difference? 

Join us for the reading of Jacques Lacan’s Seminar XX: On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge (Encore) (1972-1973).

Format:

The reading of Lacan is done together as a group and is facilitated by Leon Brenner. No prior reading is required before our gatherings. We read the text slowly, trying to delve into each paragraph, deciphering Lacan’s unique style and extracting very straightforward and non-metaphorical ideas. Other than learning about the psychoanalysis of Lacan, we will also be learning how to read Lacan—a challenge in itself. Make sure to come with a receptive and light-hearted mood—the goal is to enjoy this reading together (if we want to). Reading material will be distributed in each session.

Group sessions will be held every Tuesday, 19:00 – 20:30 (March 3, 12, 19 & 26; April 2, 9, 16 & 30; May 7, 14, 21 & 28; More to be announced).

Facilitator:

Leon Brenner is a teacher and a scholar specializing in the fields of Lacanian psychoanalysis, contemporary French philosophy and autism theory. Brenner has graduated with the highest honor a B.A and M.A in Psychology and Philosophy. His doctoral dissertation concerns the subject of autism in philosophy and is entitled, The Autistic Subject: On the Threshold of Language. Brenner has received two excellence awards as a junior university teacher: the University Rector excellence award, and the Deanship excellence award. He is currently engaged in several scholarly and artistic projects in Berlin and is a resident instructor at Stillpoint Spaces Berlin.

Address: 

The entrance to The Lab of Stillpoint Spaces Berlin is directly from the street Hobrechtstraße 66 – front building, ground floor (Vorderhaus, EG). We kindly ask you to arrive at least 15 minutes before the official beginning of the reading group. Please, do not ring on any of the doorbells, as our colleagues might be having counseling sessions.

I hope to see you all in our new semester.

Leon Brenner

 

“There is no sexual relationship”

Wherever we look around us – especially while in a morose and misanthropic mood – we see “relationships”. Now, strictly philosophically speaking, a “relationship” is a concept designating an element which mediates between two things.  Accordingly, we can propose, for example, that there is a “relation of proximity” between me and my cat right at this moment, or a “relation of friendship” between me and my neighbour, etc. The question at the forefront of our discussion today will revolve an especially interesting relationship – the “sexual relationship” – and more particularly Jacques Lacan’s assertion that “There is no sexual relationship”.

Lets start with a first definition: a sexual relationship mediates between two individuals and involves sexual enjoyment. 

[The polyamorous readers might take into account that a ternary relationship (a threesome) actually consists of three binary relationships]

sexual-fantasy2

Thomas Ruff, Nudes, 2000

But what exactly is sexual enjoyment? Well, we can approach the question of sexual enjoyment (without discriminating any of its forms) on two levels: the physiological level – I.E. of the real bodies – and the psychological level – I.E. the one that takes place entirely in our minds. Sexuality, as it is manifest in the physiological level, has to do with a strange form of friction, setting a variety of mucous membranes and several types of sponges into action, which sometimes leads to procreation, but mostly just to an original form of biological expenditure. This dimension of sexuality completely lacks social and symbolic context; in it sexuality is a senseless, chaotic, grotesque collision between different masses of tissue. It is quite obvious that, as human-beings, we do not enjoy sex in a strictly physiological manner; that in order to ‘get off’ we require some’thing’ to assist us in painting this whole picture in a different light. This intervention takes place on the psychological level – through the meaning each and every one of us attributes to this senseless act which we all are so curiously attracted to.

vagina

Georgia O’Keeffe, Vagina

So, how does one enjoy? The answer to this question is found in the cultural domain, in language, at childhood. It is a question which does not have a single right answer, but has a multiplicity of answers – for we are, according to Freud, at our root “polymorphously perverse”. Soon enough you learn that some ‘get off’ the voice of their partner, while some can ‘get off’ only in the presence of high-heals. It is not the physiological sexual act which defines our enjoyment, but the way in which we interpret it on the basis of the symbolic and imaginary domain of our accumulated social existence.

Now, if our enjoyment is mediated through a symbolic or imaginary interpretation of the sexual act, then we have to assume that it necessarily entails a relationship to an image or an object in our psychic reality. Moreover, if interpretation is unavoidably lacking – especially when it has to do with a human being – then we cannot assume that this object can truly encompass the metaphysical girth of a subject. In other words, there is no way to take a subject, a human being, and reduce her or him into an image or an object (outside of our own mind that is). A subject is always more than the object we make of him or her – there is always more to my sexual partners than what I make of them during sex. That is what makes sex with people so much more enjoyable then sex with inanimate objects (although there are those very unique forms of fetishism). Therefore, it is clear why it is not the other subject which is included in our sexual enjoyment, but an object that we make of him or her, or assume that he or her has. It is something in them – most of the time something that they do not actually posses – that we ‘get off’ on. That something is the object of our desire, carefully assembled through our traumatic encounters with sexuality at a young age and our admirable attempts to make some ‘symbolic’ or ‘imaginary’ sense out of them. It is an object which is ours, rooted in an original (object) cause that is ours, through which we can gain access to our own enjoyment. This form of enjoyment is a narcissistic enjoyment – it takes place in my body, under my interpretation, and in relation to an object which gains its reality strictly in relation to my fundamental fantasy.

That is why, if we assume that a sexual relationship is necessarily conditioned on sexual enjoyment, we cannot assume that it entails a relationship to a subject. And indeed, Lacan reminds us again and again that, while having sex, the individual is in actuality alone. That the beautiful image of a naked body pressed on another is an ‘image’ – an ‘imag’inary representation; that sexual enjoyment is always narcissistic, and takes us far away from the subject with us to the domain of fantasy – of the object of desire.

narc

Caravaggio, Narcissus, 1594

Now we can better understand one facet (amongst many others) of Lacan’s famous aphorism – “there is no sexual relationship”; an argument which was especially shocking in an era where everybody was constantly talking about sexuality. Lacan claims that in the sexual act the subject forms a relationship with an object, that desire is fetishistically set on the other – his or her ass, breast, cock, voice, gaze… This is a desire which is confined by its cause, and thus cannot be truly incorporated in the other subject, but can only be projected as an object that his or her body carries for us; an object singularly concocted in the framework of our own fantasy. Interestingly enough, Lacan sometimes calls this form of enjoyment ‘hommo-sexual’ – a play on the french word ‘homme‘ (meaning man), designating an enjoyment which includes only one and the same person (or masculine enjoyment – more on that later on…).

Nevertheless, the fact that “there is no sexual relationship” does not necessarily imply that there are no other subjects in the world! On the contrary, it is exactly the objectification of our partners –  meaning, the assumption that they carry this object of our desire – which implies their subjective reality. It is only a subject that can carry this object, or what Plato and Lacan call “agalma”. It is the insistence on the apprehension of the ‘non-relation’ of sex, the ‘void’ of the sexual relationship, and axiomatically validate the existence of a second subject, that we can call ‘love’. Through love, which first has to go through desire, we bestow being on the subject. Yet, we should not get confused, this is not a “subject-on-subject” relationship, it is not a relationship at all, but a supposition of the existence of “the scene of the Two” (see: Alain Badiou); a place in the world, constructed through the experience of love, and under the axiomatic fidelity to the idea of living as-Two. But love is for another time, we first must meddle a bit more in the domain of desire. All of this and a little more will be tackled in the upcoming posts.

Ilona on Top arch.tif

Jeff Koons, Ilona on Top, 1990