Emasculation

“…one morning while still in bed I had a feeling which (…) struck me as highly peculiar. It was the idea that it must be rather pleasant to be a woman succumbing to intercourse.”[1] Touching on Schreber’s position as a man or a woman, this fantasy has nothing to do with the return of the repressed but, marking the foreclosure at stake in the structure, opens a breach in his experience that leaves him in a state of perplexity, prey to the thought that it had been implanted by external influences. During the delusion that follows, Schreber succumbs to a mortifying erotomania in which he finds himself prey to an invasive jouissance that knows no limit and then constructs his own solution involving a mode of ‘unmanning’, or emasculation,[2] in which he finds himself transformed into a woman, to become “the wife of God”, bearer of a new race of man, in a future that is indefinitely deferred.

Such is the paradigmatic case of the push-to-the-woman encountered in the clinic of psychosis. According to Maleval, Lacan identifies two functions of feminisation in Schreber: in 1958, the construction of a phallic placeholder and, in 1973, the production of a figure of paternal exception; and he underlines that they are not exclusive but highlight a work of compensation that bears upon two elements correlated with each other.[3]

In 1958, Lacan indicates: “unable to be the phallus the mother is missing, there remained the solution of being the woman that men are missing”.[4] The phallic term in default produces a push to a signifier, that of the woman, a phallic placeholder insofar as the difference between the sexes is distributed between being and having the phallus. It thus becomes a question of how to assume the operational value of a semblant to organise a relation to the Other and jouissance, and thus instate a principle of limitation and even of lack where none has been inscribed.

In L’étourdit, Lacan recasts his earlier elaboration in terms of the formulae of sexuation,[5] which demonstrate that the relation to the phallic function implies not simply a relation to castration, but to two modes of jouissance distributed across four terms. The push-to-the-woman occurs as an attempt to embody a figure of exception left vacant by the father, while making an appeal to a jouissance without limit. As Maleval remarks, this unlimited jouissance has an affinity with feminine jouissance, yet the jouissance of the not-all implies a relation to the phallic function wholly lacking in psychosis since it is bordered by phallic jouissance. Hence, the need for another solution. Here is the “elegant solution” Lacan maps onto Schema I, which traces lines of efficiency, whose hyperbolic expression operate in relation to two holes that open in its structure, P0 and F0, the one “circumventing the hole excavated in the field of the signifier by the foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father”,[6] the other revolving around “the very hole in which ‘soul-murder’ has installed death.”[7] As Miller underlines, this “soul-murder” already marks a first attempt to resolve the elision of the phallus, since it assigns it a place, while calling for a supplement. [8]

Here lies the value of the asymptote identified by Freud, which Lacan traces in the diagonal between the two curved lines of “the double asymptote that unites the delusional ego to the divine other”.[9] It is this axis that traces the exception that forms the limit, while not being included in the line it determines. It is in this sense that Schreber makes the Woman exist. His solution is founded, not on a symptom that inscribes a limitation of jouissance through the repetition of a point of fixation, but on an asymptotic relation through which his solution and principle of stabilisation is suspended from the impossible point at which the lines of efficiency meet—namely, the point at which his emasculation is definitively realised.


[1] Schreber, D. P., Memoirs of my Nervous Illness, trans. Ida Macalpine and Richard A. Hunter, New York : NYRB, 2000, p. 46.

[2] Ibid. p. 53.

[3] Maleval J.-C., La Forclusion du Nom-du-Père, Seuil, 2000, p. 335.

[4] Lacan, J., “A Question Prior to Any Possible Treatment of Psychosis”, Écrits, Norton, 2006, p. 472. [Seuil 566]

[5] Cf. Lacan J., «L’étourdit », Autres écrits, Paris, Seuil, 2001, p. 466.

[6] Lacan J., « D’une question préliminaire… », op. cit., p. 563.

[7] Ibid., p. 570.

[8] Cf. Miller J.-A., « L’Homme aux loups », La Cause freudienne, n°72, novembre 2009, p. 102.

[9] Lacan J., « D’une question préliminaire… », op. cit., p. 572.