text: “The Semblant and the Postiche Object” (AL Santiago)

from PAPERS: Electronic Journal of the Action Committee of the School One, 2009-2010, N. 1:

The Semblant and the Postiche Object
Ana Lydia Santiago
As Jacques-Alain Miller points out in his Seminar “De la nature des semblants”1, it is his daughter’s difficulties in distinguishing truth from semblant that constituted a source of inspiration for Lacan for the conception of the semblant as a category having its own use in psychoanalysis. “Is it real or not?” This question, often formulated by young children, above all when confronted by people in disguise or puppets, seems appropriate for questioning the value of the semblant in its relation to status of the object in the analytic experience. It is in
this way that we can take the example of the object named ‘postiche’, since its function is non other than of make believe [faire semblant]2. More precisely, the postiche object is always artificial, in so far as it can occupy any place to make us believe something, that in truth it is
not. From here, we can also ask whether the distinction between the postiche object and the semblant is not a way of interrogating the title Lacan gave to his Seminar XVII “D’un discours qui ne serait pas du semblant ?”3
Objective  Genitive
To clarify the statement of this title, we can assert that it is not a question of the semblant of something else. “Du semblant” [‘of semblant’] must be taken as the objective genitive. It is a question of the semblant as the object from which the economy of jouissance of a discourse is
regulated. In linguistics, the use of the genitive consists of the interpretation given to the preposition “de” [‘of’] present in the relation between two nominal syntagmes ; depending on whether it is a question of the subject or of the object expressed by the genitive, we have the
subjective genitive, or the objective genitive. As such, in the sentence, “The quotation of Camões of the professor” [la citation de Camões du professeur], the professor is the subjective genitive and Camões is the objective genitive – the one that determines the quotation4. Another example of the objective genitive is : “A book of mathematics”, where ‘mathematics’ determines the book. Lacan maintains that the semblant cannot be a subjective genitive, in so far as the subject is nothing but the product of the signifying articulation; the subject does not determine it, on the contrary, he is determined by the chain. And, according to Lacan’s terms, in the circuit of the genitive objective and the signifying articulation, “it is precisely as an object of what is only produced in the said discourse that the semblant is posed”5.
Let us return to the clarification provided by linguistics as a means of explaining how the use of the semblant in psychoanalysis, as a concept, is situated beyond the signifier, since it is a matter of a name that determines something essential for another name. It is this that allows it to be described as an essential factor in the definition of discourse, particularly as what has a relation with the economy of jouissance. I am proposing to take as my field of research the clinical implications of the different possible relations with object a and the semblant in the analytic experience.
Concerning the articulation  between object a and semblant in the analytic discourse, I will isolate, first of all, two references by Lacan which are from the same year but which, in a certain way, oppose each other. The first is in “Etourdit” (1/1/73)6, where Lacan formulates that object a refutes the semblant. The second is in the Seminar, book XX (10/4/73), where Lacan affirms the equivalence of this object with the semblant. In putting object a in the place of the semblant, the analyst is in the most convenient position to interrogate in what way truth is concerned8. What is more, I will make the hypotheses that this second reference does not cancel out the first, in so far as he opts for an equation between object a and the semblant9. It must also be noted here that other than object a, psychoanalysis is enriched with at least two other primordial semblants in its approach to the clinic of the real of jouissance.
Firstly, the semblant of the Name-of-the-Father, which inscribes jouissance in so far as it names the obscurity of the desire of the mother and promotes something of the order of a transmission.
Then there is the phallus. The phallus is a signifier, a representation, which allows for the formulation and articulation of sexual jouissance. Its use surpasses the level of the image, without, however, losing its connection with it. For all those who inhabit language, it is necessary that something artificial is installed so as to erase the lack inscribed in the speaking being.  It is necessary for something to be elaborated that can come to fill, beyond castration, the point of the real of human reproduction. The inscription of castration has the privilege of treating this real as being impossible to divide or fragment. Castration is defined as “a composition between jouissance and the semblant”. The phallus, as semblant, borders the veiled truth of castration. As for what concerns sexual identity, it is not just a simple matter of believing oneself a man or woman, but rather of accounting for the fact that “(…) for men, a girl is the phallus and it is that which castrates them. For woman, the boy is the same thing, the phallus, and it’s that which castrates them as well, because they only acquire a penis, and it’s a failure”10. To summarise, anything that attempts to write the real of sexual jouissance can be put in the category of semblant. As such, object a is included in the list of semblants proper to psychoanalysis. The following question remains: Is object a, as a semblant, of the same nature as the semblants of the Name-of-the-Father and the phallus?
“Faire semblant”  [‘Make believe’]
“Is it real or not ?” In clinical practice with children, the child’s game stages the dimension of the semblant, of what make believe is, cancelling out the opposition between the false and the true. In the analytic session, for example, when a child suggests he will pretend that he is the mother and the analyst the little girl who is ill, what is staged evokes a point of the subject’s truth which concerns her position of object for the Other. The game has nothing to do with reality and, in so far as it is fiction, it is vowed to half-say the truth about the castrating effect of the incidence of language for the speaking being.
A clinical fragment illustrates the dimension of the object present in discourse. A little boy spends his week end play fighting with his father. The father, who works in another town, spends only one week end a month with his family. This time, the fights with his father provoke real injuries and eventually, the father allows his son to win. During the father’s absences, the argument is displaced onto the elder brother, attracting the attention of the mother. With regards to the wrestling with the father, the signifying articulation reveals the unconscious game: the veritable object of the dispute is the mother. The result of this game is the subject’s idea of being a loser. The object itself determines the subject through a signifier which renders the connection between the apparatus of the symptom and a position of jouissance viable. The initial symptom motivating the demand for treatment was a failure at school. From the first sessions, the child managed to obtain some benefit from the pedagogical support he had been undertaking for sometime without success. The therapeutic effect had allowed him to abandon the position of failure at school. He then became preoccupied by his future, and was wandering if he would succeed in not being a loser. “The dimension of semblant furnishes a support for truth in what is vehicled by discourse”11. The unconscious statement carries the mark of a, where knowledge [savoir] is lacking, since there is no knowledge on the absolute that is the real, which always returns to the same place.
Fantasy and the postiche object
The psychoanalytic act is a source of semblant and leads to the limit of discourse, towards the encounter with the real. For the analysand, there is an encounter on this trajectory that constitutes a veritable obstacle for the treatment. It is a question of the moment when object a takes the form of the postiche object. Lacan explains this phenomenon in his Seminar X. Firstly, he considers it is not castration properly speaking that constitutes an impasse for the speaking being, but rather imaginary castration, that is to say, making something positive from castration. There is no other means of accepting that there is jouissance somewhere, than via the lacking signifier. At this place of lack, the subject is summoned to pay the price with the sign of his own castration. It is at this point that he stops, so as not to make use of his castration as a guarantee of the Other. It is, thus, at the precise moment where the analytic discourse pushes him to interpret his castration in this way, by means of a fiction from where the function of the fantasy is extracted, that the subject stops.
The fantasy of the neurotic subject is located in the field of the Other. The subjects leaning upon  the fantasy of what he is for the Other presents itself as a perversion. The fact that the neurotic has perverse fantasies does not mean that he is a pervert. The principle function of this perverse element of the neurotic’s fantasy, there where he comes to a stop, is to protect him from anxiety. The subject makes use of the fantasy, using it to cover anxiety. He doesn’t go far in making himself the object a of his fantasy. At this precise point, the object of the fantasy “succeeds in defending him against anxiety only in so far as it is a postiche object a”12.
At the point where the postiche object takes on the place of object a in the function of desire and as a defence against anxiety, another obstacle to the analytic treatment can be situated, which has an incidence on the transference. With reference to the optical schema, Lacan insists on the fact that not only is the phallus (-φ) not represented at the imaginary level, but it is also cut off from the specular image. An image of lack does not exist, he says. As such, the image of the subject reflected in the field of the Other is characterised by a lack, since what is called on to appear does not appear. Marked by lack, this image orients desire, which rises up in a veiled manner and is, above all, associated with an absence. This absence thus consists of the possibility of a presence – that of object a according to the function it exercises in the fantasy.
At this place of lack, a place that cannot be reduced to the specular image, Lacan shows that there is a libidinal reserve that remains invested in the body. Here, castration anxiety is manifested in its relation with the Other. It is from this investment, also called autoeroticism or autistic jouissance, that the image of the body is nourished in order to exercise the seductive function for the sexual partner.  In its postiche object form, object a functions in the fantasy to deceive the Other13 : “Object a, functioning in their fantasy, and serving as a defence against anxiety, is also, contrary to appearances, the bate with which they hold the Other”. This phenomenon is also the product of analytic discourse. Lacan has recourse to Anna O in order to show how Breuer and Freud were grasped by the little bit of nothing of the object a of the fantasy, which their patient was offering, in a hysterical movement of seduction, testing, in this way, the desire of the analyst.
Is the possibility of overcoming this obstacle – where object a takes the form of the postiche object – or rather is a possible crossing over of this obstacle with regards to the construction of the fantasy, conditioned by the promotion of object a as a semblant in analytic discourse?  Our work proposal takes its bearings from this question by following Lacan’s trajectory around the object and its fictions, to attempt to re-establish object a in the position of semblant.
In the structure of discourse, object a is the residue of the operation of the evacuation of jouissance from the field of the Other, where it functions as a place for the capturing of jouissance; an eximate place in the relation, installed by the institution of the subject as an effect of the signifier. The object a semblant, is not an object a of structure. Object a fills the place of surplus jouissance, by means of the objects said to be “episodic substances”14 : the breast, excrement, the look and the voice. The object a semblant is not an episodic substance, even if it is a question of a category characterised by its positivity – surplus jouissance. Lacan writes it in a metaphorical relation with lack (a /-φ)15, which indicates its solidarity with castration. It is a surplus jouissance that buffers lack and covers the prohibition of jouissance. Object a semblant is not restricted only to the signifier of the being of the subject – that is to say, to the elective value of object a in the fundamental fantasy, which rises up at the moment the subject realises himself as desire, and when desire then ceases to be a metonymy. When this happens, when something passes into the real, the subject discovers himself as a particular object a, what he was for the Other in his constitution as a living being16.
1 Miller, J.-A., L’Orientation lacanienne, ‘De la nature des semblants’, lesson of 20/11/91, unpublished.
2 [TN : This text was originally written in Portuguese] In Portuguese, the signification of the term ‘semblant’
does not cover the totality of the semantic value of its equivalent in French. The terms “figure”, “face”, “visage”,
“appearance”, “physionomie” are far from containing the sense of this substantive in French, as they only
designate what is illusory, appearance or false. As the Lacanian concept shows, the category of ‘semblant’ refers
to what, despite presenting itself as appearance, always carries something of truth, and what is more, it takes on,
with certain conditions, the structuring function in the process of the constitution of the subject of the
Cf. Santiago, Jesus, La drogue du toxicomane, Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 2001, note 50, p. 200.
3 Lacan, J., Le Séminaire, livre XVIII, D’un discours qui ne serait pas du semblant, (1971), Paris, Seuil, 2006, p.
18.  [T.N.: This could be translated as ‘Of a discourse that would not be of semblant?’
4 Houaiss, Dictionnaire de la langue portugaise, Rio de Janeiro, Editoria objectiva, 2001.
5[T.N.: In English, the ambiguity introduced by the preposition ‘of’ is often removed by the use of the marker: ‘
-’s ’. For example: “The professor’s quotation of Camões” ]
6  Lacan, J., quoted by J.-A. Miller in De la naturaleza de los semblantes, Buenos Aires, Paidos, 2002, p. 18.
7 Lacan, J., « L’Etourdit », Autres Ecrits, Paris, Seuil, 2001, p. 475.
8 Lacan, J., Le Séminaire, Livre XX, Encore, 1973, Paris, Seuil, p. 88.
9 Miller, J.-A., op. cit., p. 86.
10 Lacan, J., Le Séminaire, Livre XVIII, op.cit., p. 34.
11 Idem, p. 32.
12 Lacan, J., Le Séminaire, Livre X, L’Angoisse, Paris, Seuil, 2004, p. 63.
13 Ibid., p. 63.
14 Miller, J.-A., op. cit.
15 Ibid., p. 85.
16 Idem, pp. 115 et 116.
Translated from the French by Victoria Woollard

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