A matter of disappearance: L is barred

– “How is that? These Lacanians are completely crazy! In the age of #MeToo, social networks, new feminisms, inclusive spelling, daring to say such a thing is provocation! What about common sense? Because it goes with common sense, they exist, dear sir, dear madam, and you would pretend otherwise! Be careful what you say…”

– “Dear indignant man and woman, you are right to tell me to be careful what I say. The ultra-liberal age of the ones-all-alone is the ultra-authoritarian age of generalised censorship. Offence lurks at every word spoken. But you too should pay attention to the writing because this is what it’s all about: a letter and a bar on that letter. The word, the noun, woman, is not barred. The bar is on L which is a definite article. So, the women exist, women exist, you exist, as you can, as we can under the terror of current common sense, of common sense which, true to its function, is a discourse of domination. The formulation that makes you indignant does not belong to any discourse of domination because it belongs to the discourse of psychoanalysis”.

– “You may pretend [it belongs] to a different discourse!”

– “No need to pretend when you yourself say that you find it incomprehensible. Here again I can only agree with you. Because it is precisely a question of dropping this meaning that is cluttering up and is the cause of your indignation”.

– So why this bar at the end?

– First of all, let’s state that psychoanalysis in the Lacanian orientation starts from the observation that the bodies of human beings are speaking. It is not about anatomy or genetics. The epistemic field of psychoanalysis is limited to that of language, speech, lalangue and discourse. Our only working instruments are words and sounds. From this point of view, women are men like any other. They fall into the category of speaking beings. Language and the discourse that is its implementation in the social link, the signifying system, therefore, functions according to a binary code: S1-S2, day/night, up/down, unite/separate or body/soul, life/death and of course man/woman. These oppositions can bring into play a link of complementarity. Between man and woman, the interpretation that is imposed, in defiance of all reality, is that they complement each other. This is the case in so far as they are signifiers. This produces, thanks to the substitution, a lack, a lack-in-being that is written as S barred. But from the point of view of sexual differentiation, it is a failure. In 1971-1972 Lacan says: “[…] it’s quite clear that there is no means of sharing out any two series of attributes – any, I say – that would form a male series on the one side and on the other the woman series”.[i] We have therefore supported efforts to use the active/passive opposition to situate this difference in the social and the sexual. Lacan also pinpoints the failure of this attempt, going so far as to affirm that in man “even in normal lifeeven “[w]hen hunting, there is a virtuous display of that is finest about him, namely to be passive […] The same is true of the fisher, and, ultimately, of everything whereby man is woman”.[ii]

In the field of signifiers and complementarity, there is therefore no way to saturate sexual difference. We remain in effect in the empire of the universal guaranteed by an impossible exception. If the universal applies to any speaking subject, it does not catch difference. The next step is to follow, not the thread of identifications, but that of jouissance.

The solution consists in introducing a new variable, the “supplementary” variable. The feminine comes, not to oppose the masculine, but sometimes, in an aleatory way, to supplement it. Lacan calls this variable not-all. The guarantee is not the consequence of a unique exception and universality collapses. The bar on the La writes this. It is a lack that comes to double, on the feminine side, the lack-of-being that characterises every speaking being. A lack squared. But there remains a place, as J.-A. Miller states: “’[t]he Woman does not exist’”, does not signify that the place of the woman does not exist but that this place remains essentially empty. That this place should remain empty does not prevent us from encounter something there”.[iii]

In effect, this bar on the L writes the existence of another jouissance, a jouissance of erasure touching the image, the name and the One. To identify this feminine jouissance that denies the universal is the wager of analytical research. And, Lacan says in the Seminar Encore, it is up to the so-called men to enter into it. Some have already testified to it, and others will do so. But let’s be careful not to transform the not-all into a watchword or a hope, because then it would immediately vanish! Silence also suits it well.

Translation by Bogdan Wolf


[i] Lacan J. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XIX, or Worse, transl. A.R. Price, Polity Press, 2018, p. 163.

[ii] Op.cit. pp. 164-165.

[iii] Miller, J.-A. Of Semblants in the Relation Between the Sexes, translV.Voruz and B. Wolf, Psychoanalytical Notebooks, 3, London Society of the NLS, 1999, p.10.