12/03/2003

Lacan and the signification of the phallus

A found poem:

By a reversal that is not simply a negation of the negation,
The power of pure loss emerges from the residue of obliteration.

That’s from Jacques Lacan’s 1958 essay, ‘The signification of the phallus”. The passage continues, without the snappy rhythm and rhyme: ‘For the unconditional element of demand, desire substitutes the absolute condition: this condition unties the knot of that element in the proof of love that is resistant to the satisfaction of a need. Thus desire is neither appetite for satisfaction, nor the demand for love, but the difference that results from the subtraction of the first from the second, the phenomenon of their splitting.’ I’d like to see that in PowerPoint, actually. I hardly understood a word of it. I thought the essay would be bawdy and fun, but it turns out the phallus isn’t all that fun in the final analysis. It is, in fact, ‘the signifier intended to designate as a whole the effects of the signified, in that the signifier conditions them by its presence as a signifier.’ Very sexy. The phallus is also ‘the privileged signifier of that mark in which the role of the logos is joined with the advent of desire.’ Oh, OK. Well, that explains it. ‘It might also be said that, by virtue of its turgidity, it is the image of the vital flow as it is transmitted in generation.’ Oh, please stop, Dr. Lacan, you’re turning me on! ‘I shall also be using the phallus as an algorithm.’ Doctor! I bet you say that to all the girls!

No, I guess his point is that the phallus is the signifier of the desire of the Other. Woman ‘finds the signifier of her own desire in the body of him to whom she addresses her demand for love.’ In other words, if the dude’s got a hard-on, she’s happy. For the man the signifier of the phallus ‘consitutes [woman] as giving in love what she does not have… his own desire for the phallus will make its signifier emerge in its persistent divergence towards “another woman”’—in other words, if the dude’s got a hard-on, he’s happy, too. So everybody’s happy as long as the dude’s got a hard-on. As for the rest of us: ‘male homosexuality, in accordance with the phallic mark that constitutes desire, is constituted on the side of desire, while female homosexuality, on the other hand, as observation shows, is oriented on a disappointment that reinforces the side of the demand for love.’

I only wish Lacan’s essays were illustrated.

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