Try the experiment of announcing to those around you, as it is, thetitle of this Great Conversation, “Woman does not exist”? It will very likely have an effect. Those close to you, and those not so, are bound to have something to say about it, or even to criticize it.
Fifty years ago, Jacques Lacan recalled how a talk in Milan had earned him the headline of an Italian daily newspaper: “According to Dr. Lacan, Ladies” – le donne– “Do Not Exist!”iThe scandal had alreadybeen the order of the day.
What about nowadays? Is this statement still making waves? Is it, as some people say, sadly reactionary, or does it rather affront a doxa that ignores it? While it might seem politically incorrect to some, let us say that it is sufficiently dissonant to interpret one of the knots of the contemporary malaise.
In the Age of Gender
To say “Woman does not exist” introduces the man/woman binary. The two sexesget people talking, moreover that their relation cannot be written. What has produced more spilled ink indeed, than their structural misunderstanding and contingent combinations?
We are fortunate to be practising psychoanalysis at a time of a major vacillation: for some, it would no longer seem self-evident that there are menandwomen. Even more surprisingly, using these two signifiers would be an outrage: menandwomenwould not be the effects of nomination, but the stigma of a domination.
Gender theory proposes to remedy this in an Aufhebungof sex. Behind the promotion of gender is a programme: it would not only be possible, but urgent to do away with the two. This urgency rests on a hope: in the name of benevolence, it would be a matter of purging the slightest remnant of discrimination. The news flash is not so much that there is trouble with gender – have we ever been clear about sex? – rather that the militants of the cause are promising a future free of all disorder.
During a time when the difference between the sexes is being harrowed, what place is left for that which presents itself only as alterity? What consequences will this attempt to liquidate the sexual have for the social bond? Since, in order to speak we have to go through the signifier, that is to say, through what only has its value by its difference.
And yet there are only Two…
Psychoanalysis, because it is a practice, takes into account the difference between the sexes. Indeed, the clinic never ceases to testify to how this difference is an enigma for each one. Freud formulated this question, shocking the very lynchpin of civilisation; thus making it reverberate that in this domain, it is not so much anatomy, but malaise, that forges destiny.
Lacan will say it this way, and it will be a milestone: “There is no sexual relation”.
That the sexual is a matter of non-relation implies precisely that in this affair there are two terms. Lacan is crystal clear: “That sex is real is not to be doubted in the slightest. Its very structure is the dual, the number duo. Whatever one may think, there are but two of them: men, women.” ii
As such, from sexes to genders, there is a world… where each one may choose their gender. On some dating apps, you can choose your gender from a list of fifty two items. You can even invent your own gender, beyond the list. In this way, genders can be nuanced as much as you like. From the two of sex, they become more complex, and this efflorescence of the multiple leads us to as many genres as there are genders. Jacques-Alain Miller proposes to situate these pluralised genres asmodes-of-jouissance.iii
What does this approach to genres imply other than they are pure social constructions? When these are located as treatments of jouissance that produce an effraction for each one, their luxuriance appears to owe much to psychoanalysis. Wasn’t it Freud who demonstrated how, very early in life, the drive finds polymorphouspaths, proper to each one? And what can we say about Lacan, who pluralized the Names of the Father, thus bringing to light that the Oedipus is only onepath… among others. Psychoanalysis has thus changed the world, by demonstrating that in matters of sexuality, what seemed to be set in the marble of eternal truths was, for each one, a matter of routine, prejudice, belief… and therefore of choice! From then on, Gender Studies were the children of Freud and Lacan. A paradox remains: precisely where the evils of patriarchy are denounced, a reference to the Father is maintained. Let’s take this seriously, as the most decided testimony that it is not so easy to do without the Father. Would it then be easier to do without Woman? Nothing could be less certain.
Towards the Speaking Body
By stating that Woman does not exist, Lacan emphasises that there is no essence of Woman. Nothing on this side delivers a universal. Phenomenologically, this non-existence jumps out at us! The luxuriance is there too: ofWoman, one says… so much and more, and precisely, everything and it’s opposite. La donna è mobile[flighty/fickle] does not so much pinpoint the supposed feminine versatility, rather the inconsistency of the statements made about this supposed essence.
This statement, Woman does not exist, allows us to situate the difference between the sexes in analytical discourse in its proper place. In this regard, Lacan will speak ofsexuation, and will formalise two logics: specifying two modalities by which language attempts to outfit jouissance, modalities that do not find themselves united in any complementarity. The non-existence of Womanis a consequence of the existence of a jouissance which Lacan calledfeminine.The title of this Conversation therefore invites us to interrogate what, in psychoanalysis, exists. As such, it is a door of entry to the most pressing issue in Lacan’s teaching: the speaking body.
If Lacan is resolutely contemporary, it is because he locates precisely the cause of the disturbance proper to speaking beings: forced to go through language, they have a particularly tenacious difficulty in bearing the fact of havinga body. This body has the unfortunate tendency to remind them in the form of the symptom, especially when, in life, a real arises. Excessively present in its frenzy, infinitely absent when it gives out, this body, with which everyone has to cope, cannot be fullyhumanised by words. Because of the life of which it is the seat, the Lacanian body is an enjoying [jouissant] body, and therefore remains mysterious and enigmatic.
In order to express this structural hiatus and to make this radical strangeness of the body to respond to signification, Lacan overcomes the sexual quandary by making use of the letter, sonorous and beyond-sense He evokes “LOM cahun corps et nan-na Kun” – “[bockedy LOM who’s gotta body and Kun have just the one]”iv. Let us note that corpsdoesnot see its letter discombobulated. Might that be key? Would what pulsates under this name be quite Other and strange as it is? Psychoanalysis, because it deals with LOM, is not purely dialectical. It deals with the contingent and traumatic consequences of language on the body.
I Can’t Breathe v
Freud was an event at the time of the forbiddensexual. He was the first to take seriously the speech of women who were said to be crazy. He learned from them that not all of the sexual follows the patriarchal order.
Lacan had to deal with the liberatedsexual.Recalling in the 1950s that madness and freedom were not without affinities, he extracted from the testimony of a man, President Schreber, a first indication that feminisation and the limitless were linked. About fifteen years later, he then took from women, the mystics, the limitlessness capable of interpreting the reverse side of a push-to-jouissance [pousse-au-jouir].
We are in the age of the liquidatedsexual. But let’s make no mistake: increasingly individualised, today’s norms are nonetheless the particulars of a consistent universal. In this respect, these new sexual utopias, which dream of razing all the real to the ground in order to erect a world without disorder, suffocate us. Under the weight of the for all, each one says: “I can’t breathe”. Woman does not exist, this statement making a hole, is good news and by inviting us to interrogate that which ex-iststhenorms, it is a breath of fresh air.
Translation by Raphael Montague
iLacan J., The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book XX,Encore, Transl. B. Fink, New York & London: W.W. Norton & Co., 1998, p. 57.
iiLacan J., The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book XIX,…or Worse, Transl. A. Price, UK & USA: Polity, 2018, p. 134. (Modified translation)
iiiCf. Miller J.-A. and Marty É., “Interview on the Sex of Moderns”, in The Lacanian Review Online, Transl. P. Dravers, March 2021. Retrieved 27-08-2021, online here: https://www.thelacanianreviews.com/eric-marty-and-jacques-alain-miller-interview-on-the-sex-of-moderns1/
ivLacan J., “Joyce the Symptom”, (Autres écrits, 2001, p. 565.) Transl. A. Price, in The Lacanian Review No. 5, “Delights of the Ego”, Paris: New Lacanian School, 2018, p. 13.
vTN: In English in the original text.