Lacan on Anxiety
This comes from Patrick McCarty`s new book out today…..-“Nietzsche, Heidegger, Lacan, Derrida at the End of the World”).
We cannot afford to succumb to existential simplicity, a simplification of anxiety. And not only because yesterday’s existentialism is today’s straightjacket.
* Anxiety is, as Lacan makes clear at the outset of Seminar X, too central to our understanding, whether as professionals (psychoanalysts) or not. It is not merely one mood among others, though it is this too. Perhaps it is the affect that best illustrates the inadequacy of the concept. The affect (of anxiety) is not to be comprehended. It is not categorical (and hence one upon itself). The affect does not represent the fulfillment of the Enlightenment dream of progress, a dream taken over directly into the so-called sciences, or the screen memory by which the illusion thickens. No one today even recalls the matter.
If laboring under a prejudice which is also wrongheaded is the single greatest spur to the techno-scientific illusion (of progress? toward what?), Lacan declines to take the bait. He quite deliberately references in this regard “some very, very fine things concerning a division of affect” in Aquinas. “We will certainly find plenty of material there [in the division of concupiscent and irascible in Aquinas] to feed our own reflections–much more, paradoxically, than in the modern…recent developments.” The latest research, the newest developments–and Aquinas? One can only be serious–or something else entirely.
Categorizing–exactly what the mood cannot have–conduces to cataloguing and, says Lacan, “the method known as cataloguing can ultimately only bear the mark of a profound aporia.” It bears this mark because the limits that are introduced all along the way run into nothing as insuperable as their own internal limitations, the limit’s own intrinsic limit; that by which it is always baffling progress along a smooth track, against the backdrop that distorts everything front and center–before the floodlights even; always in excess of itself, including precisely where it would exclude, showing itself up for much less and more than it would seem. The limit that Hume has disappearing into the geometers point.
The dramatization of a certain fable is Lacan’s commencement in Seminar X. He alludes to it as revelatory of “the essential relationship between anxiety and the desire of the Other.” It reinvigorates anxiety by placing it, staging it, in a better light, one better suited to it. Lacan presents himself as having donned a mask. The mask of what, he does not know. And before him stands a monster of sorts, a gigantic praying mantis creature. Anxiety arises most acutely with the reflection, Of what is the mask I am wearing? Does the mask I am wearing depict me as I am or as something conducive to a mistake in identification on the part of the praying mantis creature? In other words, and this is far from nothing, the creature would know me and is doubtless making the attempt in its own, perhaps repulsive, way. From within its inaccessible interior.
What would my anxiety be if the desire of the Other was intent upon me or upon what it took for me? Desire is no simple thing. It only shows itself to me as what I would or would not endure, never as what it is. At stake is not what the Other wants with me, but a disturbing automatism, a replaceability or, as Lacan queries, “What does He want concerning this place of the ego?”
The thought/experience experiment allows one to fill the mask and to suffer the anxiety at issue, to take it on the wing. The anxiety is so much worse for perhaps being a mistake. It is so much worse for my ignorance of the mask, the sort of mask it is, and hence the grounds of the mistake. All of this while the “object of my anxiety” is directly before my eyes. So much so, says Lacan, “I couldn’t see my own image in the enigmatic mirror of the insect’s ocular globe.” The object was so fully “there” or present to me that there was no overlooking what I could not make out. The nearness of it is so undeniable that it is terrible to think, to experience, the decisiveness of what nonetheless goes, and must go, overlooked and missing. A mirror is embedded in the action as a point of opacity but is not sufficient. It must be supplemented by the not-ing, negating, movement of miss-ing, displacement, possibilities that emerge against a horizon largely effaced, as in a dream–that staging, that peculiarly contained “space.” It isn’t nothing as Being, but as Becoming–and thus not nothing at all. It is a certain rhythm of not-ing. And, again, it is my stupid, dreamy in medias res vulnerability, quite shameful, though I have done nothing to cause it. It is quite shameful for one to stand where one finds oneself.
And behind the opacity of its eyes, most horrible, it is thinking, reaching for me with its mind. Its hidden immediacy of itself to itself is what one would rather not contemplate. Edgar Allan Poe’s old man of “The Telltale Heart,” remember, has hooded eyes, and it is these that incite the narrator to violence, the narrator so convinced that his mask cannot be removed, who delights so much in wearing one, in being so maniacally in control of his mask, safely outside the defining reach of all others, only to discover his heart beating with terror beneath his feet, under the very floorboards, where he himself has nailed it down. The beast is something else again. The ill-advised pet monkey might be halfway through tearing its human caretaker’s face off before the realization of the horror. The snake, its hard diamond eyes unyieldingly inscrutable, would sound the alarm much sooner.
(Has enough been “read into” (or out of) the staging of the dream, the frame that silently drops into place in the facilitation of our attention, the “neutral backdrop, the exact “means” by which the sleeper’s thought is directed, the determination of the dream-thoughts in which one must act out the effect? As Horatio opines in Hamlet, “In what particular thought to work I know not,/
But in the gross and scope of mine opinion/This bodes some strange eruption to our state.” Have we attended sufficiently to that which by surrounding the dream, embracing it on the stage, is so very far from nothing–indeed provides it the thought in which to work? For, like the blank image in the creature’s eye, it so obviously would insist upon itself by never failing to be overlooked. It isn’t a letter concealed in the open, Poe’s purloined one. It is that which constitutes the openness of the open, and its blatantly concealed meaning.)
The anxiety depicted here at the beginning of Seminar X is not depicted at all. It is conjured up. The language is utterly performative, without ceasing to be constative in the least. The language enacts a circling about the anxiety that is without proper name, without its own discrete articulation–most certainly, not “the nothing” as such. The nothing-simplification seems grotesque. As does Being-unto-death. These commonplaces begin to sound like unhelpful abstractions that do not situate us any more clearly in our lives or worlds, anywhere. Lacan’s fable could not be subtitled, Of Nothing Whatever. It probably could not have been composed by Kierkegaard or by Heidegger. Lacan observes (Seminar X), “In the disquisition of Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, everything is spoken about, thank goodness, except anxiety. Does this mean that it may not be spoken about?”
It is not simply that the mask conceals Lacan’s face. His face is only concealed for the monster. Lacan does not open up a wider scene, the presence or absence of spectators, those looking on and perhaps wondering too. For how would they know what the monster takes Lacan to be or whether what it takes him to be is mistaken, and so on. No Greek chorus could be anything but mute and blind with awe. The chorus ought not be able to utter a sound. It ought to suffer in silence. It ought to be just as in the dream of the urgency to shout when shouting is impossible. The “outside” spectator cannot assume the weight of anxiety that ripples over the masked Lacan at the thought, this definite content, that he might be misidentified by the creature with the power to make the misidentification good, actionable. The power difference can be what it is, we cannot say, but it also can not be extracted with the retention of the same quality of anxiety. For I do not know whether anxiety is, like so many others things, a unity only as a word. I do know, however, or have good grounds to suspect, that “anxiety,” as depicted here by Lacan, is by no means homogeneous. “Although this apparent homogeneity,” Lacan says of the experience of anxiety, “finds itself justified by a structural kinship [between para-normal, pathological, neurotic, perverse and psychotic types of anxiety], this can only be at the expense of the original comprehension.”
Lacan could well be vulnerable before the creature. The mistake the creature can be imagined making might or might not be made. Events could fall out otherwise than I have imagined. Even my vulnerability, in its precise quality, lies largely concealed. And yet there is nothing here of the so-called nothingness of possibility. The words rush in madly and obscure the scene, which has been staged for no other purpose than to overturn fixed notions and bring the thing-itself vividly before our eyes, once more. Anxiety too can be forgotten, effaced, numbed down. It could be that the contemporary man is so numb to anxiety that he can hardly even feel himself stirring behind his mask. He can hardly even feel the anxiety of possible suffocation. This is the suicide his world has imposed upon him, and for which all the world’s educational institutions have been designed–and nothing else, nothing besides this.
Is the anxiety not worse given the prospect of dying while wearing a mask? Is there something terrible in dying a mystery to oneself–precisely in a single regard, as a mystery to the other (who can do one thing or another to one)? Why must I take the other’s misidentification so much to heart, so personally?
The monster presents us with so much that cannot be known, a little that can be surmised, and much to be imagined. (We hardly know what faculties within which to work, one might exclaim.) We imagine, but not everything under the sun. The “thoughts” in which our imagination may work have been provided in advance, the channels of our eagerness to know already set down. It is rather like the ubiquitousness of the dream of flying in its ubiquitousness.
Again, a question of free agency just doesn’t arise in this connection. So mastered by emotion, so struck dumb by our position amidst “things,” who could choose? And yet, beyond all doubt, we do. What is it in the situation which discourages the question of freedom? What do we take ourselves to know on the subject such that the occasion for asking seems all wrong? And what would be the proper mood for raising the question, a more dispassionate one? Are we so sure that the affect rides roughshod over this freedom or that mood is intrinsically antithetical to choice?
This is all so much–though not surprisingly–like Facebook. The question that presses so close no one can raise it is, What would this likely malicious other do with the space of the ego, “mine” in this case? He wouldn’t cancel it out. No, he would fill it with all of his poisons, make of it a hellish cauldron of boiling acids, and delight in his imagined retribution. Retribution? For my being here and in being here imposed upon him to the narcissistic core. He functions rather like desire in its upsurgence in the self-consciousness sections of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Facebook, though not only that, traps us all at an early stage or level of development, arresting us all there. On the basis of Facebook, no society could survive. if Hobbes had known Facebook, he would have died laughing at the spectacle of himself as pollyanna. Or do I exaggerate just now? Perhaps you have no desire to kill anyone. Or, if not that, to torture anyone. But how personal it all seems.
* Lacan: “In relation to this reference [to historicism], existentialist thought is born of and precipitated by a disarray, in the etymological sense of the term.” The history that comes down to us–all that there is, apparently–is not a touchstone of universal reliability or fidelity, nor do we know that that which is preserved to memory of history is of the best quality. Lacan mentions in this regard the existentialist to whom he feels closest, Heidegger, and most peculiarly vis-a-vis his “originative dereliction.”

This comes from Patrick McCarty`s new book out today…..-“Nietzsche, Heidegger, Lacan, Derrida at the End of the World”).We cannot afford to succumb to existential simplicity, a simplification of anxiety. And not only because yesterday’s existentialism is today’s straightjacket.
* Anxiety is, as Lacan makes clear at the outset of Seminar X, too central to our understanding, whether as professionals (psychoanalysts) or not. It is not merely one mood among others, though it is this too. Perhaps it is the affect that best illustrates the inadequacy of the concept. The affect (of anxiety) is not to be comprehended. It is not categorical (and hence one upon itself). The affect does not represent the fulfillment of the Enlightenment dream of progress, a dream taken over directly into the so-called sciences, or the screen memory by which the illusion thickens. No one today even recalls the matter.

If laboring under a prejudice which is also wrongheaded is the single greatest spur to the techno-scientific illusion (of progress? toward what?), Lacan declines to take the bait. He quite deliberately references in this regard “some very, very fine things concerning a division of affect” in Aquinas. “We will certainly find plenty of material there [in the division of concupiscent and irascible in Aquinas] to feed our own reflections–much more, paradoxically, than in the modern…recent developments.” The latest research, the newest developments–and Aquinas? One can only be serious–or something else entirely.

Categorizing–exactly what the mood cannot have–conduces to cataloguing and, says Lacan, “the method known as cataloguing can ultimately only bear the mark of a profound aporia.” It bears this mark because the limits that are introduced all along the way run into nothing as insuperable as their own internal limitations, the limit’s own intrinsic limit; that by which it is always baffling progress along a smooth track, against the backdrop that distorts everything front and center–before the floodlights even; always in excess of itself, including precisely where it would exclude, showing itself up for much less and more than it would seem. The limit that Hume has disappearing into the geometers point.

The dramatization of a certain fable is Lacan’s commencement in Seminar X. He alludes to it as revelatory of “the essential relationship between anxiety and the desire of the Other.” It reinvigorates anxiety by placing it, staging it, in a better light, one better suited to it. Lacan presents himself as having donned a mask. The mask of what, he does not know. And before him stands a monster of sorts, a gigantic praying mantis creature. Anxiety arises most acutely with the reflection, Of what is the mask I am wearing? Does the mask I am wearing depict me as I am or as something conducive to a mistake in identification on the part of the praying mantis creature? In other words, and this is far from nothing, the creature would know me and is doubtless making the attempt in its own, perhaps repulsive, way. From within its inaccessible interior.

What would my anxiety be if the desire of the Other was intent upon me or upon what it took for me? Desire is no simple thing. It only shows itself to me as what I would or would not endure, never as what it is. At stake is not what the Other wants with me, but a disturbing automatism, a replaceability or, as Lacan queries, “What does He want concerning this place of the ego?”
The thought/experience experiment allows one to fill the mask and to suffer the anxiety at issue, to take it on the wing. The anxiety is so much worse for perhaps being a mistake. It is so much worse for my ignorance of the mask, the sort of mask it is, and hence the grounds of the mistake. All of this while the “object of my anxiety” is directly before my eyes. So much so, says Lacan, “I couldn’t see my own image in the enigmatic mirror of the insect’s ocular globe.” The object was so fully “there” or present to me that there was no overlooking what I could not make out. The nearness of it is so undeniable that it is terrible to think, to experience, the decisiveness of what nonetheless goes, and must go, overlooked and missing. A mirror is embedded in the action as a point of opacity but is not sufficient. It must be supplemented by the not-ing, negating, movement of miss-ing, displacement, possibilities that emerge against a horizon largely effaced, as in a dream–that staging, that peculiarly contained “space.” It isn’t nothing as Being, but as Becoming–and thus not nothing at all. It is a certain rhythm of not-ing. And, again, it is my stupid, dreamy in medias res vulnerability, quite shameful, though I have done nothing to cause it. It is quite shameful for one to stand where one finds oneself.

And behind the opacity of its eyes, most horrible, it is thinking, reaching for me with its mind. Its hidden immediacy of itself to itself is what one would rather not contemplate. Edgar Allan Poe’s old man of “The Telltale Heart,” remember, has hooded eyes, and it is these that incite the narrator to violence, the narrator so convinced that his mask cannot be removed, who delights so much in wearing one, in being so maniacally in control of his mask, safely outside the defining reach of all others, only to discover his heart beating with terror beneath his feet, under the very floorboards, where he himself has nailed it down. The beast is something else again. The ill-advised pet monkey might be halfway through tearing its human caretaker’s face off before the realization of the horror. The snake, its hard diamond eyes unyieldingly inscrutable, would sound the alarm much sooner.
(Has enough been “read into” (or out of) the staging of the dream, the frame that silently drops into place in the facilitation of our attention, the “neutral backdrop, the exact “means” by which the sleeper’s thought is directed, the determination of the dream-thoughts in which one must act out the effect? As Horatio opines in Hamlet, “In what particular thought to work I know not,/
But in the gross and scope of mine opinion/This bodes some strange eruption to our state.” Have we attended sufficiently to that which by surrounding the dream, embracing it on the stage, is so very far from nothing–indeed provides it the thought in which to work? For, like the blank image in the creature’s eye, it so obviously would insist upon itself by never failing to be overlooked. It isn’t a letter concealed in the open, Poe’s purloined one. It is that which constitutes the openness of the open, and its blatantly concealed meaning.)

The anxiety depicted here at the beginning of Seminar X is not depicted at all. It is conjured up. The language is utterly performative, without ceasing to be constative in the least. The language enacts a circling about the anxiety that is without proper name, without its own discrete articulation–most certainly, not “the nothing” as such. The nothing-simplification seems grotesque. As does Being-unto-death. These commonplaces begin to sound like unhelpful abstractions that do not situate us any more clearly in our lives or worlds, anywhere. Lacan’s fable could not be subtitled, Of Nothing Whatever. It probably could not have been composed by Kierkegaard or by Heidegger. Lacan observes (Seminar X), “In the disquisition of Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, everything is spoken about, thank goodness, except anxiety. Does this mean that it may not be spoken about?”
It is not simply that the mask conceals Lacan’s face. His face is only concealed for the monster. Lacan does not open up a wider scene, the presence or absence of spectators, those looking on and perhaps wondering too. For how would they know what the monster takes Lacan to be or whether what it takes him to be is mistaken, and so on. No Greek chorus could be anything but mute and blind with awe. The chorus ought not be able to utter a sound. It ought to suffer in silence. It ought to be just as in the dream of the urgency to shout when shouting is impossible. The “outside” spectator cannot assume the weight of anxiety that ripples over the masked Lacan at the thought, this definite content, that he might be misidentified by the creature with the power to make the misidentification good, actionable. The power difference can be what it is, we cannot say, but it also can not be extracted with the retention of the same quality of anxiety. For I do not know whether anxiety is, like so many others things, a unity only as a word. I do know, however, or have good grounds to suspect, that “anxiety,” as depicted here by Lacan, is by no means homogeneous. “Although this apparent homogeneity,” Lacan says of the experience of anxiety, “finds itself justified by a structural kinship [between para-normal, pathological, neurotic, perverse and psychotic types of anxiety], this can only be at the expense of the original comprehension.”

Lacan could well be vulnerable before the creature. The mistake the creature can be imagined making might or might not be made. Events could fall out otherwise than I have imagined. Even my vulnerability, in its precise quality, lies largely concealed. And yet there is nothing here of the so-called nothingness of possibility. The words rush in madly and obscure the scene, which has been staged for no other purpose than to overturn fixed notions and bring the thing-itself vividly before our eyes, once more. Anxiety too can be forgotten, effaced, numbed down. It could be that the contemporary man is so numb to anxiety that he can hardly even feel himself stirring behind his mask. He can hardly even feel the anxiety of possible suffocation. This is the suicide his world has imposed upon him, and for which all the world’s educational institutions have been designed–and nothing else, nothing besides this.

Is the anxiety not worse given the prospect of dying while wearing a mask? Is there something terrible in dying a mystery to oneself–precisely in a single regard, as a mystery to the other (who can do one thing or another to one)? Why must I take the other’s misidentification so much to heart, so personally?

The monster presents us with so much that cannot be known, a little that can be surmised, and much to be imagined. (We hardly know what faculties within which to work, one might exclaim.) We imagine, but not everything under the sun. The “thoughts” in which our imagination may work have been provided in advance, the channels of our eagerness to know already set down. It is rather like the ubiquitousness of the dream of flying in its ubiquitousness.

Again, a question of free agency just doesn’t arise in this connection. So mastered by emotion, so struck dumb by our position amidst “things,” who could choose? And yet, beyond all doubt, we do. What is it in the situation which discourages the question of freedom? What do we take ourselves to know on the subject such that the occasion for asking seems all wrong? And what would be the proper mood for raising the question, a more dispassionate one? Are we so sure that the affect rides roughshod over this freedom or that mood is intrinsically antithetical to choice?

This is all so much–though not surprisingly–like Facebook. The question that presses so close no one can raise it is, What would this likely malicious other do with the space of the ego, “mine” in this case? He wouldn’t cancel it out. No, he would fill it with all of his poisons, make of it a hellish cauldron of boiling acids, and delight in his imagined retribution. Retribution? For my being here and in being here imposed upon him to the narcissistic core. He functions rather like desire in its upsurgence in the self-consciousness sections of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Facebook, though not only that, traps us all at an early stage or level of development, arresting us all there. On the basis of Facebook, no society could survive. if Hobbes had known Facebook, he would have died laughing at the spectacle of himself as pollyanna. Or do I exaggerate just now? Perhaps you have no desire to kill anyone. Or, if not that, to torture anyone. But how personal it all seems.

* Lacan: “In relation to this reference [to historicism], existentialist thought is born of and precipitated by a disarray, in the etymological sense of the term.” The history that comes down to us–all that there is, apparently–is not a touchstone of universal reliability or fidelity, nor do we know that that which is preserved to memory of history is of the best quality. Lacan mentions in this regard the existentialist to whom he feels closest, Heidegger, and most peculiarly vis-a-vis his “originative dereliction.”