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Susanne Lummerding: So, if man is perhaps simply a woman who thinks that she does exist, … ; phantasm, symptom, and the political

Susanne Lummerding

 

So, if man is perhaps simply a woman who thinks that she does exist, … ;

phantasm, symptom, and the political

 

Highlighting the relevance of the Lacanian notion of the non-existence of The woman for rethinking concepts of Europe as well as social and cultural implications of digitalization, may serve as a starting point to question traditional presuppositions defining ‘identity’ and ‘community’ but also to question a persistent dichotomy of ‘reality’ versus ‘mediation.’ This again will lead to the question of whether or not the assertion of non-existence can in fact be made equivalently in all three of the proposed cases — ‘woman,’ ‘Europe,’ and ‘digital medium.’ The title of thealit’s project do not exist: Europe, woman, digital medium clearly points out the very problem therein by barring the word exist. I’ll come back to this grapheme later. However, I want to go further maintaining that creating a correspondence between ‘Europe’ (considered as the phantasmatic construction of unity) and ‘digital medium’ (as the symptomatic signifier for simulation) with ‘woman’ — all of them considered as non-existent — amounts to an argument that exclusively refers to the socio-symbolic level. In this aspect it corresponds to Judith Butler’s argumentation of her concept of gender. The reason why I consider this correspondence worth scrutinizing is the theoretical and political implications resulting from a specific omission. For what is left out of consideration here is, as I will show with the example of Butler, the very potential of Lacan’s phrase or, more precisely, of his notion of the Real on which it is based; — a notion omitted both by biological determinist as well as social/discursive constructionist arguments which is the reason Butler falls short of her own political objective. To examine this question requires a closer look at the context of Lacan’s phrase, that is, his formulae of sexuation.[1] Rather than confining my argument solely to the Lacanian schema much less to a debate of ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ legacy, I will in the following offer considerations on the relevance of a thereof derived anti-essentialist and non-constructionist concept of sex as a function of the Real for the discussion of existential propositions as well as for the definition of a political subject.

Thus, what I intend to develop here is a concept of sex that goes beyond Judith Butler’s conception of sex and gender — both theoretically and politically, while also critically transcending Joan Copjec’s rereading of Lacan, each in different aspects.[2] Since the 1980s at the latest, we have proceeded from the assumption that ‘sex’ cannot be thought of as an a-priori matter, and that gender is incessantly produced in infinite processes of discursive practices and is perpetually negotiated within hegemonic relations. Though this constitutes an indispensable critique of essentialist/biologist models of explanation, what is not addressed in it — neither by Butler nor by comparable approaches — is the question of the structural basis behind the ‘necessity’ and inevitability of (sexual) differentiation or, rather, a sexually differentiated subject position. It is precisely this question which will be highlighted and clarified here as one of particular political significance.

Such a project first calls for the clarification of the preconditions under which one can speak of existence (in a logical and analytical sense) in order to explain the functional relation between sexuation and subject constitution. Thus when Slavoj Žižek, for instance, in alluding to Lacan’s much criticized and scandalized statement that “The woman does not exist”[3] proposes: “So, if woman does not exist, man is perhaps simply a woman who thinks that she does exist”,[4] this is merely a slight indication of the complex implications of Lacan’s statement which — while being graspable only in the context of Lacan’s conception of sexual differentiation — goes far beyond questions of gender.

I want to briefly deal with this here because, despite the criticisms I have to quite a few aspects of Lacan’s formulations, I consider his theoretical approach the most convincing starting point for developing a set of instruments to explore questions such as: Why is sexuation, i.e., a language-based (sexual) differentiation, necessary in order to enable the existence of a subject or, more accurately, a subject position? What operations are necessary in order to formulate a judgement of existence? What are the politically relevant consequences and options resulting from them? And why will redefining the distinction between sex and gender prove to be indispensable both analytically and politically?

In view of continual talk of an all-embracing mediatization and virtualization prompted by current technological developments which is concomitant with an increased demand for ‘authenticity,’ be it in terms of a ‘plain truth of unembellished reality’ or an ‘originality’ in debates about the evidential force of media documentation, be it in postulating a ‘pre-discursive,’ ‘pre-cultural’ or ‘pre-colonial’ identity or nature as the basis of political articulation — or, on the other hand, a purportedly original ‘pre-national’ unity — it becomes even more crucial to provide conclusive arguments for the contestability of any form of reality or identity construction.

In the course of this essay I will focus on developing an anti-essentialist definition of sex, which is fundamentally different from Judith Butler’s, especially in terms of its political consequences, in that it cannot be reduced to a discursive construction, but rather allows us to grasp the precondition of any discursive construction without having to draw upon notions that are ostensibly prior to discourse. What is at issue here is hence not only the question of the condition of ‘reality’ and ‘identity’ but, above all, the definition of the political and that of a political subject. In the following, I will formulate such a definition on the level of (language-based) preconditions rather than (symbolic/material) effects.

 In his seminar “Une lettre d’âmour,” Lacan describes sexual differentiation in the form of propositional formulae[5] — he uses mathematical symbols, which can be seen as another of his numerous attempts to use formalization as a means for abstracting from specific social and cultural connotations. He does so — contrary to any kind of biological explanation — to define sexuation or (sexual) differentiation as resulting “from a logical exigency in speech.”[6]

Fig. 1 Lacan’s formulae of sexuation

In each of the two columns he has set down two seemingly contradictory propositions. On the right: “There is no x for which the F function is not valid” and: “For not-all x, the F function is valid.” And on the left: “There is an x for which the F function is not valid” and: “For all x, the F function is valid.”[7] The “F function” here is a terminological variant of that function for which over the years Lacan used a number of different terms, ranging from “phallus” or “phallic function” to “objet petit a” to the concept of the “gaze”[8] — all of which are attempts to mark a fundamental impossibility: the impossibility of capturing the failure of language by means of language — implying, among other things, that there can be no such thing as meta-language. The very concept of the phallus — despite all due criticism of recurrent chauvinist undertones — makes clear that, as a critical refinement of Freudian theory, it marks no object whatsoever but, on the contrary, an empty signifier, negating as such precisely the expectation that there is or might be such a thing as a complete or coherent identity prior to any form of differentiation.[9] So what is at issue here is not ‘something,’ but an impossibility: the impossibility of closure, i.e., of completing or fixing meaning.

This gives us a first indication of the function of sexuation or the necessity for differentiation. It has to do with the precondition required for formulating a judgment of existence. According to Lacan, it is only by inscribing itself on the level of the Symbolic, i.e., by being signified, that a thing can be said to exist. The signifier produces the signified in the process of signification, and the differential function of the signifier prevents it from ever being able to coincide with its localization in a signified and thus also prevents meaning from ever being able to attain closure.10 It is precisely this impossibility of a completion or conclusion of meaning which Lacan terms ‘the Real’11 — one of the three dimensions of language, besides ‘the Symbolic’ and ‘the Imaginary,’ and hence in no way to be equated with reality. Quite to the contrary, the Real is what necessitates the perpetual re-articulation of ever new constructions of reality in the first place. Therefore, the impossibility of closure, i.e., of fixing meaning, does not only imply meaning’s fundamental precariousness but also constitutes its condition of possibility, in that it incessantly calls for the restoration of the fantasy of a stable coherence — while simultaneously making it unattainable. Furthermore, this implies that any construction of meaning or reality can always only be the provisional outcome of (re-)articulations within hegemonic relations and cannot legitimize itself by resorting to any a priori.

Thus, the impossibility of any closure of meaning also forms the basis for the moment of the ‘political’ which therefore has to be assigned to the dimension of the Real and, in accordance with Claude Lefort and Ernesto Laclau, distinguished from ‘politics,’ which has to be assigned to the dimension of the Symbolic. In this sense, the political (‘le politique’) refers to a confrontation with a radical incoherence, while politics (‘la politique’) refers to its specific inscriptions in the Symbolic, as attempts to come to terms with and temporarily cover up this incoherence.12 What is thus indicated is the unavailability of an extra-linguistic referent. It is precisely in this sense — due to this impossibility of totality — that the process of generating meaning is constitutive.

Despite Lacan’s designating the two pairs in his formulae as ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ positions, we must, if we want to carry on Lacan’s line of thought — and ultimately use it against him — take a look at the emphasis he puts on the fact that all speaking beings (‘parlêtres’), regardless of their anatomical or other attributions, can find themselves in both of the two positions to emerge as subjects, as significant, that is: to exist.

But what is, above all, important here is not the number of options (i.e., two), but, as I would argue, the indication that differentiation per se is necessary as a precondition for existence — yet without determining the form or number of the specific inscriptions. What is pivotal about this formalization is that it is not a matter of a descriptive distinction — based on qualities they might have in common or on a prior substance — but a distinction in the form of two different arguments in relation to a function (F). In it, the contradictoriness of the two arguments indicates the inevitable failure of both positions in terms of formulating a judgment of existence or of establishing a coherent identity. It is merely a matter of two different modes of failure whose relation is neither symmetrical nor complementary — and so can never add up to a ‘whole’: The claim of universality made on both sides by asserting a totality (“For all x, F is valid” or “There is no x for which F is not valid”) is, on the right side, marked as impossible, or a judgment of existence marked as undecidable, by pointing to the lack of a boundary (“not-all”).13 The absolute totality of an infinite progression is by definition inconceivable — which is why Lacan formulates: “The woman does not exist” (as a universal category or guarantee of the fantasy of a coherent subject). On the left side, however, the assertion of a boundary or an exception (“There is an x, for which the F function is not valid”) seems to allow for a judgment of existence or a totality, though only under the precondition of a purported exception, i.e.: a deception — by positing a fictive ‘exterior’ that functions as a boundary, which is required for proposing a totality, an all.

What has to be highlighted is, on the one hand, the indication that the deception mentioned above is not intentional, but an inevitable part of constructing the fantasy of a potentially possible totality or coherence, on the basis of which a judgment of existence can be made — a phantasmatic judgment. On the other hand — going beyond Lacan, and Copjec as well — I would like to point out that these propositional formulae of sexuation are particularly interesting in that they not only demonstrate that any claim to a positive, i.e., unequivocal sexual identity is based on a fantasy, but — what is more — are precisely not to be read as two distinct fields of sexual categorization. It is exactly not a question of two self-contained, defined positions, each of which could by itself produce a coherent subject. Rather, the formulae are to be read as a description of the necessity for constructing an alterity in order to establish any kind of identity or meaning (i.e., reality). Only by constructing the otherness of an ‘Other’ does it become possible to assert the existence of ‘something.’ This is to say, the impossibility of closure or fixing meaning (the F function) does not only reveal that every judgment of existence or every construction of identity is inevitably phantasmatic, but also accounts for why any translation into a binarism, into opposing symbolic inscriptions, is bound to fail.

These reflections on the process of subject constitution or sexuation as a construction of identity, which is bound to fail, relate to a different kind of failure than the one described by Judith Butler. Butler talks about a failure with regard to particularities or identities not registered by or excluded from discourse — and thus does not preclude the possibility of ‘succeeding.’14 Here, however, we are not talking about a specific — ‘pre-discursive’— object, ungrasped by language, but about a contradiction in which language entangles itself.15 It is not, as it is for Butler, a matter of incomplete or unstable meaning, but of a fundamental impossibility to complete or fix meaning. The crucial aspect, neglected by Butler, is the productivity of the ‘failure’ addressed here — or more precisely: it is the only available form of productivity. So while Butler argues solely on the level of the socio-symbolic (of politics) and is thus unable to give an explanation for the inscription of difference in the Symbolic,16 what I want to pursue here is its very precondition on the level of the Real (that of the political). Only the conceptual distinction of these two levels enables an understanding of why sexuation must by necessity inscribe itself (as failure) on the socio-cultural level in order to constitute a subject.

Sex in this sense cannot be equated with symbolic inscriptions (i.e., constructions of difference) — for instance, gender constructions — but must be understood as their language-based and logical precondition on the level of the Real. In order to name this logical precondition — that is, to render it conceivable, to represent the unrepresentable impossibility — I will, like Copjec, use and redefine the term ‘sex’ so as to de-substantialize the very concept of sex in a more radical way than Butler tries to do, when she links it to a signifier, that is, to an inscription in the Symbolic. Contrary to Butler, I want to define sex as an antinomy of meaning: as that which each specific meaning does not stand for, but only stands in for — namely the language-based impossibility of its closure or fixation.17 Thus, unlike Butler — and also, though in reversed order, unlike Copjec — I consider it indispensable, not least from a political point of view, to re-define the distinction between sex and “sexual inscription” (gender) in terms of an analytical distinction between the level of the Real and that of the Symbolic. For to subsume one term under the other — sex under gender (Butler) or gender under sex (Copjec) — disregards the dimension of the Real and thus falls short, both theoretically and politically.

Thus in order to question the notion of ‘sexual’ difference as a binary opposition of positively defined entities — as well as a heterosexist position that emphasizes and codifies this binarism — we not only need an adequate argument to support the impossibility of any a priori but, in addition, we also need the detachment of a privileged association of one specific construction of difference (gender) with this impossibility. Thus sex has to be understood as the language-based necessity of a difference as such, which, as inherent failure, constitutes the subject on the noumenal rather than the phenomenal level — and thus does not imply a necessary form for inscribing difference in the realm of the socio-symbolic. Hence this conception of sex is to be seen as the precondition for understanding any socio-symbolic construction (of difference) as nothing but a specific ‘placeholder’ whose primary function is to cover up impossibility — and is therefore, in the absence of a legitimizing authority (a ‘big Other’) or of an a priori, contestable.

While Butler’s attributing gender to the ‘loss’ of a specific relation to an object, for which it is prohibited to mourn, but which is melancholically foreclosed or repudiated18 allows us to observe the effectivity of norms, it does not enable us to analyze the preconditions for establishing them. Butler in fact reproduces exactly the emphasis on “the relation between gender and sexuality” she criticizes Freud for by seeing desire not as determined by language in relation to the Real (that is, to failure), but by linking it to an object, an object already defined in terms of gender.19 According to Butler it is this “foreclosed desire” or repudiated “passionate attachment” to the ‘same sex’ which, in its repudiation, forms the basis for gender identification.20 Žižek’s oversimplified criticism that Butler thus “[…] silently equates sexual difference with the heterosexual symbolic norm determining what it is to be a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ […]”21 is, however, unsuited for grasping the actual problem. Instead, I consider the problem to be that Butler herself does exactly what she criticizes Freud for: she refers to an already established “cultural logic” and thus to the socio-symbolic level in order to describe the construction of gender.22 In this way she reproduces the very socio-symbolic framework against which she argues — because she fails to distinguish between the socio-symbolic and the Real, and hence fosters re-essentialization.

The problem is not — as Žižek suggests — the recognition of a “heterosexual norm.” Such recognition is, to a certain limit, indeed politically relevant. Yet it is limited. To my mind, the actual problem is to be seen in the fact, that Butler presupposes a distinction between ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual,’ because she starts from predefined ‘gender identifications’ to which the “passionate attachments” relate and without which such a distinction would be just as inconceivable as a norm. Thus, Butler’s notion of ‘loss’ or ‘foreclosure’ of passionate attachments presupposes ‘something’ that was ostensibly lost and might therefore be retrieved. In doing so she implies the irreducibility of identity, a claim that persists in her theories. This also corresponds to Butler’s consistent adherence to the (bodily defined) notion of the ‘ego,’ a concept defined by Lacan as an imaginary formation or as the “privileged symptom” of the subject and thus exactly not as a critical potential.23

It is for this politically relevant reason that I argue for using and redefining the term sex — as distinguished from gender — to stress the dimension of the Real — the impossibility of closure or coherence — in its constitutive function for the always temporary production of ‘subject’ or, rather, a subject position, and to demonstrate the absolute unavailability of any a priori by precisely this term (sex). I use ‘sex’ as an analytical concept not to designate any phenomenal or ontic entity, i.e., any specific articulations (inscriptions), but, similar to the concept of the political, to refer to the logic of uncompleteability that constitutes these articulations.24 In this sense, the distinction between sex and sexual inscription (gender) turns out to be necessary to ensure the detachment of gender (as only one specific form of inscribing this impossibility) from the constitutive impossibility itself — and not least to prove that this specific inscription, like all others, is contestable. As a paradigmatic term, traditionally associated with essentialism,25 sex is particularly suited for revealing the phantasmatic foundations of subject/existence/reality and for radically demonstrating that what is at issue is not ‘something,’ but an impossibility. Albeit an impossibility that as a condition of possibility allows us to understand why constructions of difference are necessary in the first place — and why they are contestable.

The politically crucial consequence of this consideration is that the impossibility which makes the fantasy of closure necessary in the first place implies, as the moment of the political, not only the contestability of any socio-symbolic construction (of difference), but also that the necessity for differentiation does not predefine or ever specifically legitimate any specific form of differential inscription (politics). This means that no construction of identity or reality, and no socio-symbolic ‘norm’ can lay claim to a privileged legitimacy over another — for instance, by calling upon categories such as ‘nature’ or an a-priori ‘substance.’ For every socio-symbolic construction obtains its hegemonic position solely from the socio-symbolic relations in which it is produced. This is valid for subject positions (like: woman, without definite article) as well as for social formations/‘communities’ (like: Europe).

At the same time this describes the precondition for conceiving the subject as a political one. The subject of the political is thus not to be understood as sovereign, endowed with or defined by a coherent identity. Rather, it is the void of the socio-symbolic structure: it is precisely because there is no ‘exterior’ reference which might legitimate a specific construction of meaning or reality, that we can speak of a political subject. Exactly because the subject is radically incalculable, this is the precondition for adopting specific, contingent and always provisional subject positions.26 And it is exactly this lack of a ‘guarantee’ as precondition for re-articulations which implies responsibility. Responsibility means that each articulation or each positing as a decision is political precisely to the extent that it cannot rely on an exterior referent or an a-priori or superordinate entity, but represents a position of negotiation within a particular context in relation to other interests and forces — and is thus fundamentally contestable.

Thus, if a judgment of existence — as any claim to totality, i.e., to a closure of meaning — is to be seen as phantasmatic and simultaneously as a necessary construct, the question is in which way this consideration could apply to and effect the notions of ‘Europe’ and ‘digital medium.’ Concerning the common critique of the replacement of immediate access to ‘reality’ by digitalization it obviously is the imagined opposition between this reality and mediation that is at stake. Thus the notion of mediation in this sense — as opposed to the ‘immediate’ (reality) — can be understood to preserve the idea of the latter, that is, ‘something’ prior to mediation. The construct ‘digital medium’ as a very specific representative for ‘mediation’ — addressed by similar objections already made to every analogous medium since Parrhasios’ painted curtain (topping Zeuxis’ painted grapes) — could therefore be seen as some sort of signifier serving a similar function as does ‘The woman.’ Still, it does not quite so — or it does not on the same level — since it is only on the basis of the concept of sexuation set out above that a judgment of existence can be understood as a necessary phantasmatic construction that serves precisely the function to cover up the impossibility of a closure of meaning inherent to any signification as the precondition of existence. It is precisely on these grounds that we can contest constructs like ‘Europe,’ ‘woman’ (without definite article) and ‘digital medium’ — which per definition (qua signifier) in fact do exist in a variety of culturally, historically and politically determined definitions. In order to prompt a discussion I would like to suggest to focus on the first part of the conference title and to take it as a kind of political imperative in the sense that it calls for the destitution of ones own subject position which means to temporarily waive the claim to identity. Thus it apparently calls for an act in the Lacanian sense — while, by means of the bar crossing out the term exist, simultaneously referring to the fact that a position of ‘non-existence’ — as a position — is simply not available.

 

Bibliography

Butler, Judith (1993): ‘Arguing with the Real’. In: Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, New York/London, 187–222.

Butler, Judith (1997): The Psychic Life of Power. Theories in Subjection, Stanford.

Butler, Judith (2004): Undoing Gender, New York/London.

Copjec, Joan (1994): ‘Sex and the Euthanasia of Reason’. In: Copjec, Joan: Read My Desire, Lacan Against the Historicists, (October Books), MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass./London, 201–236.

Engel, Antke (2002): Wider die Eindeutigkeit. Sexualität und Geschlecht im Fokus queerer Politik der Repräsentation, Frankfurt/New York.

Foucault, Michel (1980): ‘Introduction’. In: Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Nineteenth French Hermaphrodite, New York, vii-xviii.

Freud, Sigmund (2000): ‘Das Ich und das Es’ [1923], In: Psychologie des Unbewußten, Eds. Alexander Mitscherlich/Angela Richards/James Strachey, Studienausgabe, vol. III, Frankfurt a.M., 273–330.

Freud, Sigmund (2000): ‘Trauer und Melancholie’ [1915]. In: Sigmund Freud, Psychologie des Unbewußten, Eds. Alexander Mitscherlich/Angela Richards/James Strachey, Studienausgabe, vol. III, Frankfurt a.M., 193–212.

Freud, Sigmund (2000): ‘Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie’ [1905]. In: Sexualleben, Eds. Alexander Mitscherlich/Angela Richards/James Strachey, Studienausgabe, vol. V, Frankfurt a.M., 37–145.

Lacan, Jacques (1966): ‘La signification du phallus’ [1958]. In: Écrits, Paris: Seuil, 683–696 (‘The Signification of the Phallus’, in: Lacan, Jacques (2002), Écrits: A Selection, transl. Bruce Fink, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 271–280).

Lacan, Jacques (1966): ‘L’instance de la lettre dans l’inconscient ou la raison depuis Freud’ [1957]. In: Écrits, Paris: Seuil, 493–528 (Lacan, Jacques (2002): ‘The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious, or Reason Since Freud’, in: Écrits: A Selection,138–168).

Lacan, Jacques (1973): Le Séminaire, livre XI, Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse 1964, Paris, (Lacan, Jacques (1977): The Seminar XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, transl. Alan Sheridan, New York: W.W. Norton & Co.).

Lacan, Jacques (1974): Télévision, Paris (Lacan, Jacques (1990): Television, transl. D. Hollier, R. Krauss and A. Michelson, New York: W.W. Norton & Co.).

Lacan, Jacques (1975): Le Séminaire, livre XXII, RSI 1974–75, Ornicar?, no. 2–5.

Lacan, Jacques (1975): Le Séminaire, livre XX, Encore 1972–73, Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, Paris. (Lacan, Jacques (1998): The Seminar XX, Encore: On Feminine Sexuality the Limits of Love and Knowledge, Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, transl. Bruce Fink, New York).

Lacan, Jacques: Le Séminaire, livre XXI, Les non-dupes errent 1973–1974,  (unpublished manuscript, 9), quoted in Mitchell, Juliet/Rose, Jaqueline, Eds. (1982): Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne, transl. Jaqueline Rose, New York/London: W.W. Norton & Co., Introduction II.

Laclau, Ernesto/Mouffe, Chantal (1985): Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, London.

Laclau, Ernesto (1990): New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time, London.

Laqueur, Thomas (1990): Making Sex. Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Cambridge, Mass.

Lefort, Claude (1986): Essais sur le politique: XIXe–XXe siècles, Paris.

Lummerding, Susanne (2005): agency@? Cyber-Diskurse, Subjektkonstituierung und Handlungsfähigkeit im Feld des Politischen, Vienna/Cologne/Weimar.

Lummerding, Susanne (2007): ‘Sex revisited — Geschlecht vs. Bedeutung’. In: Transformationen von Wissen, Mensch und Geschlecht. Transdisziplinäre Interventionen, Eds. Irene Dölling/Dorothea Dornhof/Karin Esders/Corinna Genschel/Sabine Hark, Königstein/Taunus.

Lummerding, Susanne (2007): ‚Mittel<>Zweck?’ In: Gendermedia-Studies. Zum Denken einer neuen Disziplin, Ed. Hedwig Wagner, Weimar.

Mitchell, Juliet/Rose, Jacqueline, Eds. (1985): Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne, transl. Jaqueline Rose, New York/London: W.W. Norton & Co.

Rancière, Jacques (1990): Aux bords du politique, Paris.

Rose, Jacqueline (1991): Sexuality in the Field of Vision, London/New York.

Stavrakakis, Yannis (1999): Lacan & the Political, London/New York.

Žižek, Slavoj (1989): The Sublime Object of Ideology, London.

Žižek, Slavoj (1999): The Ticklish Subject. The Absent Centre of Political Ontology, London/New York.

 

Figures

Fig. 1 Lacan, Jacques (1975): Le Séminaire, livre XX, Encore 1972–73, Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, Paris, 73.

 

[1] The term ‘sexuation’ refers — more clearly than ‘sexual differentiation’ does — to identification as a language-based process of differentiation that constitutes subjects and is not based on any priorism. The subject, in its constitutive relation to an Other, is by necessity always already sexuated.

[2] See also Lummerding, Susanne (2005): agency@? Cyber-Diskurse, Subjektkonstituierung und Handlungsfähigkeit im Feld des Politischen, Vienna/Cologne/Weimar, 97–180; further see Copjec, Joan (1994): ‘Sex and the Euthanasia of Reason’. In: Copjec, Joan: Read My Desire, Lacan Against the Historicists, (October Books), MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass./London, 201–236.

[3] Lacan, Jacques: Le Séminaire, livre XVIII, D’un discours qui ne sera pas semblant 1970–71, 9f (unpublished manuscript), quoted in Rose, Jacqueline (1991): Sexuality in the Field of Vision, London/New York, 219; Lacan, Jacques (1975): Le Séminaire, livre XX, Encore 1972–73, Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, Paris (Lacan, Jacques (1998): The Seminar XX, Encore: On Feminine Sexuality the Limits of Love and Knowledge, Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, transl. Bruce Fink, New York); and Lacan, Jacques (1975): Le Séminaire. livre XXII. RSI 1974–75, Ornicar?, no. 2–5.

[4] Žižek, Slavoj (1989): The Sublime Object of Ideology, London, 75.

[5] Lacan, Jacques (1975): ‘Une lettre d’âmour’ [March 13, 1973]. In: Lacan, Jacques (1975): Le Séminaire, livre XX, Encore 1972–73, Paris, 73–82 (‘A Love Letter’. In: Mitchell, Juliet/Rose, Jacqueline, Eds. (1985): Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne, transl. Jaqueline Rose, New York/ London: W.W. Norton & Co., 149–161; and in: Lacan, Jacques (1998): The Seminar XX, Encore: On Feminine Sexuality the Limits of Love and Knowledge, Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, transl. Bruce Fink, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 78–89).

[6] Lacan 1998: 10.

[7] Bars above pairs of symbols signify negations.

[8] See Lummerding 2005: 113–115.

[9] Lacan, Jacques (1966): ‘La signification du phallus’ [1958]. In: Écrits, Paris, 683–696 (‘The Signification of the Phallus’. In: Lacan, Jacques (2002): Écrits: A Selection, transl. Bruce Fink, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 271–280).

10 See Lacan, Jacques (1966): ‘L’instance de la lettre dans l’inconscient ou la raison depuis Freud’ [1957]. In: Lacan, Jacques (1966): Écrits, Paris: Seuil, 493–528. (‘The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious, or Reason Since Freud’. In: Lacan, Jacques (2002): Écrits: A Selection, transl. Bruce Fink, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 138–168); Lacan, Jacques (1973): Le Séminaire, livre XI, Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse [1964], Paris: Seuil, (Lacan, Jacques (1977): The Seminar XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Ed. Miller, Jacques-Alain, transl. Alan Sheridan, New York: W.W. Norton & Co.,); or Lacan, Jacques (1975): Le Séminaire, livre XX, Encore 1972–73, Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, Paris: Seuil, (Lacan, Jacques (1998): The Seminar XX, Encore: On Feminine Sexuality the Limits of Love and Knowledge, Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, transl. by Bruce Fink, New York: W.W. Norton & Co.); on the following see also: Lummerding 2005: 97–180. The term “inscription” is used here to refer to the linguistic nature of what is thus produced, which precludes any a priori.

11 Lacan, Jacques (1977): The Seminar XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis [1964]; Lacan, Jacques (1974): Télévision, Paris: Seuil, 1975 (Lacan, Jacques (1990): Television, trans. D. Hollier/R. Krauss/A. Michelson, New York: W.W. Norton & Co.,); see also Lummerding 2005: 100–104, 124–126, 136–148, 151–181, 259–275.

12 See Lefort, Claude (1986): Essais sur le politique: XIXe-XXe siècles, Paris; Laclau, Ernesto (1990): New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time, London; a similar distinction is made by Jacques Rancière, when he calls politics le gouvernement or la police and the political l’émancipation (Rancière, Jacques (1990): Aux bords du politique, Paris), or by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, when they distinguish the political from the social (Laclau, Ernesto/Mouffe, Chantal (1985): Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, London). See also Lummerding 2005: 98­–100, 148–164; and Stavrakakis, Yannis (1999): Lacan & the Political, London/New York, 71–98.

13 See Copjec 1994: 227, 231; see also Jacqueline Rose’s Introduction II, in: Mitchell/Rose 1982: 27–57.

14 See in particular: Butler, Judith (1997): The Psychic Life of Power. Theories in Subjection, Stanford. The same observation is also made by Antke Engel, see: Engel, Antke (2002): Wider die Eindeutigkeit. Sexualität und Geschlecht im Fokus queerer Politik der Repräsentation, Frankfurt/New York, 94.

15 See Copjec 1994: 201–236, 206.

16 — and hence no basis for an intervention in specific constructions.

17 See Lacan, Jacques: Le Séminare, livre XXI, Les non-dupes errent 1973–1974, (unpublished manuscript, 9), quoted in Mitchell/Rose1982: 47. See also Copjec 1994: 204, 207. Nonetheless, as I have developed elsewhere, in detail I do not fully agree with Copjec regarding the definition of gender in relation to sex. (See Lummerding 2005: 243–248; Lummerding (2007): ‘Sex revisited — Geschlecht vs. Bedeutung’. In: Transformationen von Wissen, Mensch und Geschlecht. Transdisziplinäre Interventionen, Irene Dölling/Dorothea Dornhof/Karin EsdersCcorinna Genschel/Sabine Hark, Eds.: Königstein/Taunus: 224–235; Lummerding, Susanne (2007): ‘Mittel<>Zweck?’. In: Gendermedia-Studies. Zum Denken einer neuen Disziplin, Ed. Hedwig Wagner, Weimar (in print).

18 See Butler, Judith (1997): ‘Melancholy Gender — Refused Identification’. In: Butler, Judith (1997): The Psychic Life of Power 132–150, 160–166. Butler refers here primarily to Freud’s description of the identifications essential for the formation of ‘gender’ as produced by prohibitions that call for the loss and foreclosure of “certain sexual attachments” (Freud, Sigmund (2000): ‘Das Ich und das Es’ [1923]. In: Psychologie des Unbewußten, Eds. Alexander Mitscherlich/Angela Richards/James Strachey, Studienausgabe, vol. III, Frankfurt a.M., 273–330; Freud, Sigmund (2000): ‘Trauer und Melancholie’ [1915]. In: Psychologie des Unbewussten, Eds. Alexander Mitscherlich/Angela Richards/James Strachey, Studienausgabe, vol. III, Frankfurt a.M., 193–212; and Freud, Sigmund (2000): ‘Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie’ [1905]. In: Sexualleben, Eds. Alexander Mitscherlich/Angela Richards/James Strachey, Studienausgabe, vol. V, Frankfurt a.M., 37–145.

19 According to Butler, ‘gender’ can be understood as the “acting out” of unresolved grief or as allegorizing “the incorporative fantasy of melancholia whereby which an object is phantasmatically taken in or on as a way of refusing to let it go.” See Butler 1997: 145–146. Butler’s contradictory attempts to include the category of the Real in her theory are particularly apparent in passages where she locates the Real “outside” of language while simultaneously denouncing it as an ‘ideologically determined instrument to ensure the power of psychoanalysis’ (see Butler, Judith (1993): ‘Arguing with the Real’. In: Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, New York/London, 187–222; 198 and 207.

20 See Butler 1997: 23, 180f.

21 See Žižek, Slavoj (1999): The Ticklish Subject. The Absent Centre of Political Ontology, London/New York, 273.

22 See Butler 1997: 18, 23, 143f. Žižek is also wrong in his view that Butler’s concept of “passionate attachment” corresponds to Lacan’s “fundamental fantasy,” since Butler specifically uses her concept to designate a particular socio-symbolic inscription that already presupposes a defined difference, while Lacan distinguishes between the fundamental fantasy and symbolic identifications as the fantasy’s effect. (See Lummerding 2005: 138f.)

23 See also Judith Butler’s more recent publications, including Undoing Gender, New York/London, 2004.

24 Nevertheless, sex is not simply synonymous with the political. Rather, both concepts, in their relation to the referential concept of the Real, serve to point to a logic of articulation or an analytical model, each with a different focus.

25 At least this can be claimed for ‘Western’ cultural contexts since approximately the eighteenth century. (See in particular Laqueur, Thomas (1990): Making Sex. Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Cambridge, Mass.; and Foucault, Michel (1980): ‘Introduction’. In: Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Nineteenth French Hermaphrodite, New York, vii–xviii.

26 See Lummerding 2005: 97–148.

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[zuerst erschienen in: Claudia Reiche, Andrea Sick (eds.): do not exist, europe, woman, digital medium, Bremen (thealit) 2008, 81-92.]

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Susanne Lummerding, Dr. habil., Kunst- und Medienwissenschaftlerin; zertifizierte Coach und Supervisorin; web: www.lummerding.at; 2014–2017 Gastprofessur für praxisbasierte Forschung an der Weissensee Kunsthoch­schule Berlin; Lehre im MA-Studiengang Gender/Queer Studies, Universität Wien; Forschungsschwerpunkte: anti-identitäre Repräsentationskritik/-politik und Handlungsfähigkeit; Konzepte des Politischen und queer als epistemisch-politisches Konzept; jüngste Publikationen: Wer ist Alle? Teilen von Definitionsmacht – gegen identitäre Grenzsicherung. In: Springerin. Hefte für Gegenwartskunst, Heft 4_2016 (Issue: Europe’s Other), Wien; qf_m_rx_ – anti-identitäre politische Artikulation und Handlungsfähigkeit, in: Scheele, Alexandra/ Wöhl, Stefanie (Hg.): Feminismus und Marxismus. Weinheim und Basel: Beltz Juventa (im Druck); Agency@? Cyber-Diskurse, Subjektkonstituierung und Handlungsfähigkeit im Feld des Politischen, Wien/Köln/Weimar: Böhlau., 2005.

 

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