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Foreword 723

Plato's Symposium and the Lacanian Theory

of Transference: Or, What Is Love? 725

The Death of the Modern: Gender and

Desire in Marlowe's "Hero and Leander"

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Reading Desire Backwards: Belatedness and

Spenser's Arthur 789

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Copyright 1989 by Duke University Press
us iSSN 0038-2876


What Did the King Know and When Did He

Know It? Shakespearean Discourses and
Psychoanalysis 81I


Anamorphic Stuff: Shakespeare, Catharsis,

Lacan 863
Fall 1989
Volume 88
Number 4


Coming to Cressida through Irigaray 899


Stepping to the Temple 933



A. teiyh DeNeef

literary practice.
It is precisely this kind of negotiation I had in mind by calling the
present essays "rereadings." Each represents a return to a familiar
classical text in order to tease out certain themes that assume both
shape and meaning only belatedly, in the wake of nearly a century of
psychoanalytical inquiry. At the same time, each offers a reinterpretation of the analytical motifs and structures that attempts to remain
sensitive to the idiosyncracies of a particular literary representation.
How successful these rereadings are-how convincing and how provocative-will depend upon a further critical reading-another return to another text through a return to Freud through Lacan.
The other half of the title of the collection adopts the phrase
under which Lacan described his own "return to Freud." Writing
before unique historical turning points in anthropology, sociology,
linguistics, literary theory. and philosophy, Freud was unfortunately
deprived of important theoretical innovations that could have supported his intended models and clarified his methodological choices.
The return to Freud, therefore, was to be a bringing back to his thinking the results of works that postdated him. This new constellation,
a collective gathering of several related disciplines, Lacan called "the
Freudian Field."
As the following essays reveal, the present use of psychoanalysis in
rereading literary texts is by no means a single-dimension endeavor,
for it freely borrows from a wide range of theoretical models-linguistics, narrative and discourse analysis, genre and gender studies,
rhetoric, speech acts, deconstruction, and so on. Amid such diversity it is not possible to subsume the interpretive strategies under
anyone patriarchal-Freud, Lacan-or even matriarchal-lrigaray
-name. Indeed, it is perhaps just this refusal to foreclose interpretive models and a concurrent willingness to interrogate methods and
procedures, to test the limits of psychoanalytic insights, that may
be the best answer to the charges that Kerrigan raises. At the very
least, I trust, the present collection shows that despite the death of
its "father," Lacanian thinking is very much alive and well, and that
it is making important differences in contemporary literary criticism.
If, in the process, it also helps to clarify the difficult ideas of Lacan
himself, that, I think, is a major and necessary contribution to the
scene of criticism today.

Ellie Ragland-Sullivan

Plato's SympOSium and the Lacanian

Theory of Transference:
Or, What Is Love?

In the first ten meetings of his seminar On

the Transference Lacan offered an innovative
interpretation of Plato's Symposium. l This

dialogue from the fifth century B.C. survived

throughout the Middle Ages in manuscript
form, but was not published in a critical edition until 1578 by Henri Estienne, a French
humanist. Since that time some of the best
thinkers have interpreted the Symposium, or
The Banquet, as it is otherwise called. 2 To
say something new about Plato's writings on
Socrates is, then, no mean feat. In Lacan's
compelling reading, Socrates-Plato's master
teacher-is shown as exemplary in pointing a
way for analysts to use transference dialectically, to help analysands distinguish between
desire and love.
Lacan's own teaching elaborates fine distinctions with the express goal of giving analysts a theory worthy of a praxis that will
help analysands work with the confusions
and suffering (usually regarding love and desire) that bring them to consult an analyst
in the first place. But before we look at
The South Atlantic Quarterly 88:4. Fall 1989.
Copyright 1989 by Duke University Press.



Wlie Ran/and-Sullivan

of Socrates and Freud, paradoxically "winning" the thought game by

claiming that his word is no more final than any other. Playing on
Lacan's insistence that there is no final word, no totality of discourse,
no innate "self," no full word, Derrida's skeptical stance says to Lacan
that there is also nothing one can call "truth." Put another way, Derrida's final word is the word that says implicitly to Donald Davidson:
Don't worry, young man. There is nothing more to know. If language
is all there is and it merely frames itself endlessly, building trace
upon trace, what does it mean, then, when Freud erases Plato" behind Socrates' signature?" 6 Characteristically, Derrida then goes into
a long series of speculations, examinations of notes, citations, interpretations, and speculations: all to prove that "the origin is a speculation. Whence the 'myth' and the hypothesis. If there is no thesis in
this book, it is because its proper object cannot be the object of any
thesis. It will have been noticed that the concept of hypothesis is the
most general 'methodological' category of the book: all the 'methodological' procedures amount to [reviennent d] hypotheses. And when
us in the dark, providing us, for example as concerns
the origin of sexuality, 'not so much as a ray of a hypothesis' ...
it is again to a 'hypothesis,' of another order certainly, that we must
In Beyond the Pleasure PrinCiple, Freud says:
If, therefore, we are not to abandon the hypothesis of death instincts, we must suppose them to be associated from the very
first with life instincts. But it must be admitted that in that case
we shall be working upon an equation with two unknown quantities. Apart from this, science has so little to tell us about the
origin of sexuality that we can liken the problem to a darkness
into which not so much as a ray of a hypothesis has penetrated.
In quite a different region, it is true, we do meet with such a
hypothesis; but it is of so fantastic a kind-a myth rather than
a scientific explanation-that I should not venture to produce it
here, were it not that it fulfills precisely the one condition whose
fulfillment we desire. For it traces the origin of an instinct to a
need to restore an earlier state of thinys. What I have in mind is,
of course, the theory which Plato put into the mouth of Aris-


tow? 729

lophancs in the Symposium, and which deals not only with the
orillin of the sexual instinct but also with the most important of
its variations in relation to its object .... Shall we follow the hint
us by the poet-philosopher [Professor Heinrich Gomperz of
Vicnna], and venture upon the hypothesis that living substance
at the same time of its coming to life was torn apart into small
particles, which have ever since endeavoured to reunite through
the sexual instincts? That these instincts, in which the chemical
affinity of inanimate matter persisted, gradually succeeded ... ?a
Ih'ud continues with a biological speculation on the origin of sexu,lIity.
In the Symposium Plato describes six oratorical addresses given "In
Praise of Love," all directed to Socrates for questions and commentary. The speeches represent various efforts to figure out what love is,
what its origins are, and what it means. The tension in the dialogue
('omes from its larger context, however: the jealous rivalry of Alcihiades directed against Socrates and Agatho. Lacan's interpretation
of Socrates' handling of this triad sets the tone for his own On the
Transference, as well as his departure from Freud regarding the role
of the analyst in transference. But before looking at Lacan's seminar,
let us glance briefly at Derrida's spoof of Lacan's theories on love and
sexuality. Derrida focuses on the problems involved in Plato's writing
about Socrates and the imperfect textual renderings that necessarily
follow from such accounts, not the least of which is, for him, Lacan's
reading of Freud. Derrida demonstrates the obvious. Any repetition
turns Rede (speech) into Gerede (rumor or gossip), an imperfect text.
Lacan's teaching about love, love letters, becomes in the Derridean
skeptic's mill a postcard. Derrida finds Lacanguilty of "full speech,"
a term Lacan dropped in the 1950S, although he never used it to mean
something fully present or whole, but rather a fragment or fiction he
called a piece of "truth." Lacan's greater error, in Derrida's account,
lies in his being such a dupe as to base a seminar on a fragment in the
already written.
Lacan did indeed take up the hypothesis or myth that someone
called Socrates commanded enough interest in a pupil called Plato
to keep him from falling into his favorite trap of philosophical clo-


ElJie Ran/and-Sullivan

sure (ideal forms) when Socrates was his subject of focus. Moreover,
Lacan took seriously the idea that the Symposium was not merely
an occasion for discrete discourses of mythical opinion (doXQ). More
like the salons of courtly love, the symposium was a moment when
what was said was "overdetermined" by the mingling of desires and
love that frames Plato's account of the speeches, adding something
(a jouissance effect) to the written frame, something that cannot be
recorded but which "materializes" the word-"words in their flesh,
in their material aspect"-especially when the subject matter con9
cerns Eros. Apollodorus, a new and ardent follower of Socrates, begins the evening by running in to announce the eventual arrival of
his teacher. As host, Agatho eagerly awaits the arrival of Socrates.
At the end of the evening, after the speeches, a drunken AIcibiades arrives and insists on revealing to those present that Socrates is
both the most precious (aBalma) and most treacherous of humans. In
Lacan's account, Socrates' response to AIcibiades and then to Agatho
explains much about the differing natures of desire and love, opening
up many questions about the source of Socrates' wisdom (or indeed
the idea of "wisdom" per se): questions perhaps not adequately reconsidered until Lacan's interpretation of the Symposium.
In 1966 at an international colloquium supported by a grant from
the Ford Foundation and sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Humanities Center ("The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man"),
Lacan advanced some of his most difficult ideas, ideas we are still
trying to make sense of. For instance, he presented his view of myth
as something which operates from structure. The Symposium is made
of myths. That is, Lacan does not stop his discussion of The
Banquet in Seminar 8, but refers to it throughout his teaching. For example, in the seminar on The Four Fundamental Concepts of PsychoAnalysis he expressly creates a myth of his own to explain his discovery (in the clinic) that the "truth" of structure is the Real (not
mythical) of effect that speaks to and from the body and whose cause
is desire.IO Derrida's insistence that everything is myth or hypothesis is far from Lacanian. There is no metalanguage, Lacan teaches,
no one discourse or explanation or method. But there is a truth of
the body that speaks a language of the Real, a language of symptoms
(objet a) and love (ideals).

What, Is I.ovcl


(... I haw never said that the unconscious was an assemblage of

words, JUII that the unconscious is precisely structured). I don't
I hink I here is such an English word but it is necessary to have the
h'l'Ill, as we are talking about structure and the unconscious is
SI rll('t tired as a language. What does this mean? Properly speaking
this is a redundancy because 'structured' and 'as a language' for
exactly the same thing. Structured means my speech,
Illy kxicon, etc., which is exactly the same as a language. And
I h,11. is not all. Which language? Rather than myself it was my
pupils that took a great deal of trouble to give that question a
different meaning, and to search for the formula of a reduced
language. What are the minimum conditions ... ? There were
also some philosophers ... who have found since then that it was
lint a question of an 'under' language or of 'another' language,
Ilot myth for instance or phonemes, but language. It is extraordinary the pains that each took to change the place of the question.
Myths, for instance, do not take place in our consideration predsely because they are also structured as a language .... There
is only one sort of language; concrete language ... that people
To describe a palpable effect made by speech that materializes itself
Ilot only in the body, but in writing, thinking, desiring, and loving
as well, Lacan first used the word ecrit. Later he developed his concept of the objet Q as that which "drives," materializes language,
and smashes all totalities. Elsewhere I have attempted to reconstruct
Lacan's later picture of discourse as a social link between speaking
beings whose cause is the objet aY The analytic discourse, in particular, gives rise to his notion of the variations of desiring structures that
appear in the clinic. More particularly, the analytic discourse teaches
that there is a limit to discourse that delineates a person as a subject of desire, despite the infinity of possible combinations of words,
images, phonemes, states of being, (im) possible worlds, and so on.
And that limit has a universal aspect: it is whatever presents itself as
'an intervention in our lives. around the formula "sexual being." Insofar as being sexed involves our jouissance (pleasure or suffering), we
are always "sexually" involved.I; Yet, paradoxically, in Lacan's view,


EWe RaaJand-SulJivan

there is no sexual relation, no representation for gender identity, no

innate signifier for the difference between male and female "written"
clearly in the unconscious (founding memory). This lack of a
tive mark of sexual difference does not mean, however, that there is
no mark for difference. The Imaginary seeks to symbolize difference,
the difference itself becoming its own mark, a tautology repeated at
every level of the personal and social. In this sense, every person has
a relation to a third term-the phallus or mark of lack inscribed as
the first countable signifier for difference and as the first disappearing signifier-that he or she depends on as the "at least one" signifier
for opposition that permits signifiers to account for other differences.
That is, the phallus is the first imposition of cultural meaning on
biology. Moreover, if this first mark is not made, no other metaphorical substitution of one term, one element, one identificatory trait for
another can occur.
because this mark for difKnowledge is linked to love and
ference is based on one law: the incest taboo which forbids ongOing
oneness with the mother in the name(s) of some father. Such a turning toward! around cultural differentials propagates sexual identities
as ideologies. But without this organizing structure, an infant never
learns to mark itself as other, never learns to say"!," never experiences the pure signifier as nothing more than that which allows a
representing of a subject for another si8nifier. In this drama of the
Real and Symbolic, the function of metaphor-that which substitutes
one thing for another-lies at the heart of the human ability to know,
to love, to move, to copulate, to reproduce anything new or creative.
Metaphor also continually gives birth to the fading that Lacan
acterized as metonymy or desire. In its simplest, and perhaps most
complex, sense, Lacanian discourse theory teaches that all discourse
organizes itself around the sexual difference that is quickly mytholo8 ized (essentialized) by any culture and made particular in the case
of each person. Yet, if, as Lacan maintains, structure usually predominates over chaos and rote repetition, if, indeed, the raison d'etre
of myth is to interpret (Oedipal) structuring, then it is not so surprising that one will find myth at the origin of all explanations where
problems of ordering meaning around minimal enigmas have maximum repercussions. What it means to be "me" comes back to what it

What Is tovel 733

Ill' male or female, to be (or not to be) gendered in this way

III I h.lI. ()nlv extreme cases pose the problem of the foreclosure of a
for difference (autism and psychosis). But what
texts that never quit speaking about love? Do they not
!ipt'.lk .IS if trying to account for something missing? We do not account
!'Ol' I h,11 hy deconstructing their language, for the sexual myths (desire
1)(,11I!: inlerpretation, in Lacan's view) that evolve as Imaginary, Symholk. Real, and Symptomatic orderings place love, death, and power
,IS SI.lkes at the heart of all quests and questi6ns.
III the Symposium the first speaker, Phaedrus, is both candid and
lIIodest. He argues that Love is all-powerful for both mortals and
v,otis. He attributes the power and superiority of Love to his having no
p.m'nts at all, suggesting (to me) that the urge to enshroud questions
1'C'!:,mling human origins in mystery and enigma is far from new. Love
W.IS not begotten in a traditional way, says Phaedrus. He was genC'I'.lled from the ineffable principle of all things. Indeed, after Chaos
!!.IVC birth to Earth, Earth gave birth to Love, the eldest and most
worthy of the gods. Love, then, is the author of human virtue and
happiness. To prove his point, Phaedrus tells of two mortals who sacrificed their lives for love-Alcestis and Achilles-and in so doing
pleased the gods to the utmost, even regaining life as a paradoxical
The second speaker suggests that the idea of a general discourse
to be made upon Love poses the problem incorrectly. There are, says
he, two Loves, not one. Arguing in a diffuse but interesting style that
Love attends two Aphrodites or Venuses, Pausanias explains that the
celestial one leads to love of the mind or philosophy, and the vulgar one stimulates love of the body (sexuality). The superiority of
mind over affairs of the body can be traced to the origins of the two
Venuses, the celestial one born of man alone. Her father was Uranus
(the god of rain) or Heaven itself. The vulgar or popular Venus was
born of Zeus and Dione. Pausanias goes on to denigrate the kind of
love practiced in other Greek states (Sparta, etc.) where boys are enjoined by law to gratify men as sexual lovers, thus placing monetary
value on "love." Where the arts of speaking do not flourish, as they
do in Athens, says he, virtue and wisdom cannot be attained through
the love begotten by friendship. Thus the celestial Venus "partakes
IIIt',lIIH 10


Ellie RaaJand-Sullivan

not of the female, but of the male only; whence she is the parent
of friendship-a stranger to brutal lust."14 While Pausanias is speaking, Aristophanes, the comic playwright, goes into fits of hiccoughs
and begins to make jokes. Centuries later in his interpretation of the
Symposium, Lacan says that no one will understand Plato's dialogue
if they do not know why Aristophanes acted in this manner during
Pausanias's speech. Since the hiccoughing Aristophanes is in no shape
to speak next, the medical doctor Eryximachus recommends that he
tickle his throat with a feather in order to sneeze and relieve his
Eryximachus speaks next, providing the safety of rhetoric and narrative until we can return to Aristophanes. Indeed, what did Lacan
mean by pointing to jokes and hiccoughs as crucial to understanding the Symposium? If one follows the logic of analysis put forth by
Lacan, there is a "truth" to his interpretation of The Banquet that
validates not only his theory that truth has the structure of fiction,
but pushes our understanding of aesthetics beyond its many formalistic explications by showing that fiction's roots lie in the Real of
the body. Indeed, at the simplest level, Aristophanes' laughter and
hiccoughs show that the body gets in the way of smooth and eloquent rhetoric, that the body can be an obstacle, a stumbling block
to meaning. By contrast, Eryximachus invokes a universal principle
in Nature that attracts harmony and stands behind physical health
and happy love. He argues that love as a passion corrupts and blights.
But both gods and mortals, says he, try together for the riaht love,
one which will cure whatever is wrong. Divination is just that: to
cherish the right in order to cure the wrong. The goal of love, then,
aims at good things such as temperance and justice. In these combined efforts of Heaven and Earth, Eryximachus finds the social good
as welL
Then Aristophanes is ready to speak. In 1960 Lacan wondered why
Plato brought Aristophanes into the Symposium. In historical reality,
not only did Aristophanes mock Socrates in The Clouds, he helped
kill him by introducing the diocism: a punitive rupture of the political unity of the city. Moreover, although he is a comic playwright,
Aristophanes' speech on love is not particularly comic, although it
appears to be at first glance. Aristophanes is in no doubt about the

What Is Love? 735

of love. He says the god of love should be the one most honored
humans, but he is not because the human race has Changed from
wh,11 it originally was when there were three species: males, females,
,IIH\ hermaphrodites. In this time humans were like their animal
('ClllIllnparts; they walked on all fours. But, reminding us of the BibIk,l\ myth of fallen angels in the Judaic tradition, Aristophanes says
t h.1I Jupiter punished humans for trying to invade Heaven by cutting
I h(,111 in half and forcing them to walk upright. The true punishment,

was that having been bisected, each half was doomed to

IOllg for its other half. In compensation for this loss, Jupiter gave
hlllllans sex. The hermaphrodites became heterosexuals; females beI '.1111(' lesbians in some cases; and males found the best kind of love in
I ht' combination of sex and friendship: "Greek love."
In his eighth seminar Lacan teaches us that Plato put profound
words in Aristophanes' mouth, something he will reiterate in The
/"ollr Fundamental Concepts where he speaks of this irony: the unml1scious (sexuality) finds itself on the opposite side to love. Why is
t his ironic? Humans are characterized by lack and loss, Lacan teaches
.Igain and again. In nothing are we total, neither in our speech, our
bodies, our fictions, or our gender "identity." Individuals try to compensate for a niggling sense of something missing through sex and
love. But the major catch-22 is that sex and love do not fit like a glove

Lacan's observation that "c;a ne va pas entre les hommes et les

femmes" was intuited centuries ago by Socrates via Plato. Moreover,
Aristophanes' bisection of the sexes suggests the lack to which his
myth gives the lie. Poking fun at himself and taking his injunction
seriously at the same time, Lacan says:

Children, there is treasure buried here. I have given them [my

listeners] the plough share [sic] and the plough, namely that the
unconscious was made out of language, and at one point in time
... three very good pieces of work have resulted from it. But
we must now say-You can only find the treasure in the way I
tell you. There is something comical about this way. This is abo
solutely essential in understanding any of Plato's dialogues, and
especially when one is dealing with the Symposium. This dialogue is even, one might say, a practical joke. The starting-point


lillie l{ayland-SllJlivan

... [of the joke] is Aristophanes' fable. This fable is a defiance

to the centuries, for it traverses them without anyone trying to
do better. I shall try.... Aristophanes' myth pictures the pursuit of the complement for us in a moving, and misleading way,
by articulating that it is the other, one's sexual other half, that
the living being seeks in love. To this mythical representation of
the mystery of love, analytic experience substitutes the search
by the subject, not of the sexual complement, but of the part
of himself, lost forever, that is constituted by the fact that he is
only a sexed living being, and that he is no longer immortalY
In his seminar on transference Lacan had commented that Aristophanes' laughter pokes fun at Pausanias, on one level. Aristophanes
points to the hypocrisy of the moralist Pausanias who coldly divorced
love from desire; dealing in goods and not passions (the power of
a given city state being the good), while seeming to praise "Greek
love" as pure and intellectual. But this suggestion alone hardly merits
Lacan's claims to do better in interpreting Aristophanes' fable than
has been done for centuries. So Lacan invents his own myth in an
effort to delineate the distinction between love and desire he finds
implicit in Aristophanes' fable. The lamella is an organ, "something
extra-flat, which moves like the amoeba. It is just a little more complicated. But it goes everywhere. And as it is something . . . that
is related to what the sexed being loses in sexuality, it is, like the
amoeba in relation to sexed beings, immortal-because it survives
any division, any scissiparous
And it can run around.
. . . This lamella, this organ, whos1 characteristic is not to exist,
but which is nevertheless an organ ... is the libido . . . qua pure
life instinct ... , life that has need of no organ.... It is precisely
what is subtracted from the living being by virtue of the fact that
it is subject to the cycle of sexed reproduction."16 That something is
subtracted means, for Lacan, that loss cum jouissance is the symptom of an emergent Real that marks us as creatures of One-minus.
Humans have been punished, according to Aristophanes. They have
been given the "gift" of incompleteness. To make sure the punishment be felt as such, they were made sexual (desiring), but doomed
to search for a proper sexual partner through the straits of love.

What Is Love?


is spelling it out for his listeners, a, b. c: "The sexual relation

11,111<11'<1 over to the hazards of the field of the Other. It is handed
IIVN 10 I he explanations that are given of it." The subject

hl'gins in the locus of the Other ... is born in so far as the signifier ('merges in the field of the Other. But by this very fact, this
sllbject-which was previously nothing if not a subject coming
illto heing-solidifies into a signifier. The relation to the Other is
pn'cisely that which. for us. brings out what is represented by the
1,lIlldla-not sexed polarity. the relation between masculine and
f('minine, but the relation between the living subject and that
which he loses by having to pass. for his reproduction. through
the sexual cycle. In this way I explain the essential affinity of
every drive with the zone of death. and reconcile the two sides of
the drive-which. at one and the same time. makes present sexuality in the unconscious and represents. in its essence, deathY
There is no totalized masculine or feminine. There is no ideal love,
ollly the love of ideals in their painful affinity to narcissism and
cleat h. What one loves concerns what one has lost. the mark of loss
I"Onstituting the Real as an excess, a beyond or limit that Lacan
named jouissance. Its forms are the objet a which return from a place
of trauma to create affect. and place jouissance and death (archaic
<lead "letters") in our desires (drives) and discourses. Lacan's point
about the "drives" that emanate from the Other is that they do not
necessarily have the good of the subject in mind. We can, however,
<Juestion the "drives" from the side of jouissance or la chose (the objet
a). Indeed. the subject is a headless robot, spoken by repetitions and
drives that try to reduce differences to some alien sense of the same.
What, then, is funny about Aristophanes' discourse. what is so revealing? In this case funny points to the tragicomic. We give all to
love. die for love, kill for love. In this strange masquerade where we
dance around each other. accommodating ourselves to others through
monumental farces, intense contradictions. outrageous comedies, the
strangest of bedfellows. we keep the Other at arm's length and blame
others instead. Lacan says what we love in an other is what we lack
(desire) in the Other of our own repressed fables. Still. love is our
only hope. Love for an other (transference) tries to reach beyond the


Ellie Raoland-Sullivan

death barrier erected by alien Otherness, only to stumble up against

the desire inscribed in signifying chains that each subject supposes as
his sa voir. One name Lacan gave this meconnaissance was sublimation. Indeed, he equated "Greek love" to sublimation. But Lacanian
sublimation is not Freudian sublimation. That is, it is not pathological. Rather, sublimation concerns creative efforts to know something
of the enigmatic, sometimes painful silence felt "as if from within"
that informs our quests to validate (know) who and what we are.
What do we seek in an other through love? Most people say friendship
and sex, as if they were of a piece. Not for Lacan.
Friendship concerns love, narcissism, identificatory familiarity,
similarities in jouissance. Sex addresses itself, rather, to the Other
whose object each subject is, albeit unawares. Sex waltzes in the
lane of the "drives": voices, gazes, gifts (fecal generosity), consumptions (oral affinities), aiming not at reproduction, but at being in
the circuit of the drives. 1s Sex and love accommodate themselves to
each other awkwardly and in shifting patterns, often more like two
Mack trucks dancing than Shelley'S Epipsychidion. Seemingly cynical by comparison to Shelley's conviction that love was a quest for
a soul mate, Lacan suggests that not only do we not seek the other
for beauty, the "object" sought in love is not the other qua person
either. There is, instead, a Schadenfreude produced by the objet a
that Lacan characterizes as an "extreme barrier forbidding access to
a fundamental horror." 19 What we seek in an other in love, then, is
distance from the objet a that constitutes the knots composing our
own unsymbolized traumas, which, tInetheless, leave their mark.
An other becomes a protective barrier\between our fantasies and the
strange Real whose subjects we are, a Real of losses evolving from a
prespecular lining of the subject (the primordially repressed objects
that cause desire-the breast, the feces, the urinary flow, the gaze,
the voice, the phoneme, the void-) attaching body to language, and
desire to demand. Every demand becomes a demand (request) for
love, for the recognition that feeds the ontological illusion of existence. That the "beauty" to which individuals cling is narcissistic
illusion, alienated desire, mechanistically repeating symptoms, the
fables of the Other's signi1)ring chains, and the chaotic void around
which these fables weave themselves, makes each human "subject" a

What: Is [,ovel


S.Ylllptolll (rewritten by Lacan as sin thorne in order to express the parI k"I.lrily specific to this order) of her or his life encounters with love
,1IIe! Ilt'sire, told in the names of the father and mediated by desires of
I he Illot her.
Whell Lacan opines that the most hidden and radical articulation
of loY(' in kinship is between father and son, I wonder if he is hinting
,II Ilw sublimated power of the paternal metaphor where love is the
IIIV(' of a name or a lineage: the love of self reflected in the tautomirror of naming. Love is for a name, Lacan taught. Desire is
.111 organ. If the immortality of a name (soul translated by Lacan
.IS (llller/aimer) comes from the generation of a child as the desired
ohjt('\ by which a family tries to pin down whatever remains unassllIIilated (the Real) in each member, I wonder if each child is not
.111 olJjet a in a family; the all too familiar, yet uncannily different
01 It' (s). It seems to me, then, that all this discourse in the Sympo
on the birth of Love is family talk, a philosophical effort to give
h to a child that would symbolize the forces in play in this group
where philosophy was not a thing apart, but a way of life. I would
.l<ld, further, that classical scholars have described "Greek love" as
llirlation or erotic petting, but not as a love that excluded sexual relations with, or love for, a wife. Lacan called it an amour d'ecoJe that
veiled the problematic of Woman, something we will return to later.
Por now, let's go on to Agatho's speech; the one preceding Socrates'
Agatho was a second-rate tragedian, and a Sophist, or master of
rhetoric as well. His discourse is witty, rambling, and beautifully spoken, but apparently superficial. Love is the youngest of the gods, he
says, and the most tender. Love seeks beauty, but must also deal with
I he varied effects it produces on the lover and the beloved. In his
answers, Socrates first gently admonishes all the speakers, reminding them that the point of the symposium is not for each one to say
what is "true," but to frame the best from all the materials (reminding us of the coherence theory of truth). Then he replies to Agatho,
leading him step by step in his famous elentic method of teaching by
questioning and refutation, the remembrance of which (in Lacan's
view) kept Plato from embracing altogether the systematic method
of establishing essential truths he strove for. Having praised Agatho's

740 Ellie Raaland-Sullivan

elegant words and good diction, Socrates begins what Plato renders
as a magical dance. He asks if love is love of something, or of nothing.
"Every being which feels any desire should desire only that which
it is in want of."21 Lacan will hear in these words a reminiscence of
his idea that we love in an other what we lack in the Other; what is
lost in memory and symbolization returns transformed as variations
of the objet a. In other words, Socrates debunks Agatho's claim that
Love desires Beauty alone.
He will explain what kind of being Love is, Socrates says, and afterward show what effects he produces. "Now I think the easiest way
that I can take, in executing this plan, will be to lay before you the
whole of this doctrine in the very manner and order in which I myself
was examined and lectured on the subject by Diotima." 22 This sibylline woman had done for him what he is doing for Agatho. Certainly
Socrates spares Agatho's "self love" by this indirect method of speaking. But much more is going on. Plato puts in Socrates' mouth words
supposedly bestowed on him by Diotima, who showed him that his
account of love gave the lie to itself. Love was neither beautiful nor
good, she said. Love lies between what is human and ignorant, and
what is wise and divine, and thus transmits and interprets the gods.
We remember that for Lacan the gods are of the field of the Real, that
which has left a trace, an effect, but is not symbolized in knowledge,
and so performs maddeningly just out of one's grasp. And we remember Lacan's idea that myth is what works from structure (a principle
of ordering). Yet Lacan uses myth to shpw how structure works, thus
reversing his theory that myth works f,om structure in the service of
Socrates' story of how love was generated, taken from Diotima,
is the following: Love was the son of the gods Poverty and Plenty.
Poverty, the woman, copulated with Plenty, then took her son Love
from Plenty as he lay asleep in a state of drunkenness. Thus, Love
is always poor, rough, hard, dry, barefoot, homeless, groveling, and
in perpetual want. But he is also brave, active, devising traps, and
powerful in magic. The child
then, like the mother. She desires
something the man has. According to Diotima, what is particularly
good in love is its object: that is, the generation of love seeks to link
the mortal and immorta1. 23 Socrates via Diotima tells us that Love

What Is Love?


concerns the gods. Lacan stresses that the gods are of the Realsomething more obscured (or repressed) from our knowledge today
I han from Greek knowledge when the gods were plural and powerful
in multiple ways. Yet for Socrates love is not itself a good object. It
is a demon. It is, Lacan will later stress, Socrates' demon. For the
Illoment, I suggest that the love Plato describes through Diotima as
Socrates' mouthpiece is the structure of hysteria delineated by Lacan
(after Freud). When Socrates goes on to discuss the role of Love in
t he sciences and arts, Alcibiades enters the room in a drunken state.
Alcibiades was a nobleman, known then and now for his military

for his debauchery and greed for power, and for his physical
heauty. He insists on interrupting in order to speak the truth about
Socrates whom he calls a Satyr and a Silenus, ugly on the outside
hut beautiful inside. Alcibiades then tells the story that stands at
I he origin of the symposium on love insofar as Lacan calls Alcibiades
Socrates' first love.
The story is roughly this. Alcibiades loved Socrates and thought
Socrates loved him for his beauty. Alcibiades thought of Socrates as a
treasure, a precious and undefinable object. But because he confused
desire with love, says Lacan, Alcibiades thought he could possess
t his treasure by sexual seduction. Since he did not receive a specific
from Socrates as to his romantic feelings for him, Alcibiades
devised ways to make his teacher speak his love as sexual desire.
I it' plotted to be alone with him. That led to nothing. He plotted
to wrestle with him in gymnastics. That led to nothing sexual. He
plotted to sup alone with him, and to keep Socrates by his side during
t he night. But Socrates resisted the relationship of lover and beloved,
.1llowing Alcibiades to hold him in his arms all night "merely as a
her or brother." Alcibiades has returned to Athens to accuse him
hdbre his companions of being a Silenus and a Satyr. Socrates' crime
is that he is haughty because he is best in everything, even military
.1rts. Moreover, he does not tell his feelings. Naming other young
lIIen, Alcibiades says: "He has deceived these, as if he had been their
lover. when at the same time he rather became the beloved object
himself."7.1 Then he turns to Agatho and warns him to watch out.
Socrates gives a surprising answer. He immediately speaks to Agaand warns that Alcibiades is trying to separate them. Alcibiades


Ellie Ra8/and-Sullivan

has one goal: to have both Socrates and Agatho love him since he
wants to be made better (be cured) by being a "beauty who surpasses
all others." Socrates hears Alcibiades at the level of desire according
to Lacan's rendering of the scene. Put another way, the only organ
that never closes or locks up is the ear whose answer in the body
responds to the voice. 25 Lacan has called silence the voice's purified
form.26 Lacan says Alcibiades praised Socrates, but the words were
really spoken for/to Agatho. "He has 'undressed' in public, telling of
his failed seduction, telling the slaves to stop up their ears, in order
to make Socrates his slave." Put another way, if Alcibiades cannot
seduce Socrates, he will seduce the new young man who loves him.
But Socrates refuses the position of slave or dupe. He tells Alcibiades
that in his mistaken love for him (Socrates), he wants to exchange
the deception of beauty for the truth, copper for gold.
Lacan's interpretation of the Symposium gives a picture of Socrates as one who pretends to know nothing except that he can recognize what love is: where the lover is located and the beloved. Now
this is a curious twist. We know that Socrates has long been seen
as the master of irony, the one who claims' he knows nothing, the
Greek word eironeia meaning "not knowing." The same device is
used rhetorically-not knowing-to create drama. So the drama of
the Symposium turns around not knowing; or, as Lacan would have
it, around who knows what. Socrates knows something: who loves
and who is beloved, a crucial kind of knowledge if knowledge itself
is empty (as true dogma) and arbitrary,
truth reveals whose
knowledge exercises power based on who II\anipulates desire. In his
exegesis of Freud's various writings on love, Lacan views Freud as
saying we can only think of love by referring to another sort of structure, the "drive" which Freud divided into three levels: the real, the
economic, and the biological. To these three levels three oppositions
correspond: interestlindifference, pleasure/displeasure, biological activity/passivityY Lacan picks up on the active/passive distinction,
but substitutes the terms loving/being loved. Michel Foucault's documentation of the suspicion of homosexuality as a distaste for sexual
passivity (the position of the beloved), seen, for example, in ancient
Athens, as a position lacking authority, is picked up by Leo Bersani
who argues that the hygienics of social power concerns the fear of a

What Is Love? 743


moral incompatibility between sexual passivity and civic

By directing Freud's distinction between the active and
\hl,'lSiVl' away from the idea of literal sexual position, Lacan once
11",1111 ohviates a binary opposition to demonstrate, in my view, that
hiliolry conceptions (right vs. wrong, top vs. bottom, master vs. slave,
I'll'.) .Ire always Imaginary positionings (ideologies) that emanate
1'1'11111 .1 given person's desiring structure rather than from any correct
,wxlI.1I politics of pleasure to be found in shadow form on the walls of
!'I.llo's cave.
Vil'wing Socrates' and Freud's recognition of active/passive posiIlclIIs as a knowledge, Lacan compares them as men who chose to
llI'I'VC' love in order to use it in the order of knowledge. But Freud
discovered something more in love than he meant to. He discovered
I ht' death drive there. In Lacan's view, Freud discovered that de,'lir<' is not a vital function, nor is psychoanalysis a positive science,
.IS ('volutionary theory would have us believe. Yet Freud also dis('overed transference and thought it occurred spontaneously, but did
110\ know what this meant. We know the path some analysts have

since Freud's day, believing transference love (or hate) to be a

of childhood engagement with the parents. But Lacan saw

sOlllething different here. He thought Plato also sensed something of
t he distinction of love from desire by the mere fact of putting a derisive discourse on love in the mouth of Agatho, the person speaking
just before Socrates who does know what love is (and is not). Lacan
thus disagrees with classical scholars by not discounting Agatho's
discourse. Agatho describes love in poetic lines: "It is peace among
humans I The calm on the seas I Rest of winds put to bed." Lacan says
that any Greek would know that "calm seas" mean nothing is working. or nothing is happening. Love, on the contrary, is a singular thing
that carries us along. To portray it as a tranquil sleep is, in Lacan's
words, "a comic romance." For Love is the end of peace!
That Socrates in his day would have resisted Alcibiades is amazing
to Lacan, who reads it to mean that Socrates' knowledge about love
has a special relationship to transference. As Socrates interrogates
Agatho-his current protege-he brings out one term: the function
of lack. The dialogue
the two unfolds around the distinction between Eros as love and Eros as desire: desire which Lacan has

rllil hority.lH


Ellie Raaland-Sullivan

described as caught up in a dialectic because it is suspended to a signifying chain which is constitutive ofthe subject, but under the form of
metonymy_ In The Four Fundamental Concepts, Lacan describes the
reality of the unconscious as sexual reality-an untenable truth. And
why? "We know that sexual division, in so far as it reigns over most
living beings, is that which ensures the survival of a species. Whether,
with Plato, we place the species among the Ideas, or whether we say,
with Aristotle, that it is to be found nowhere but in the individuals
that support it, hardly matters here. Let us say that the species survives in the form of its individuals." 29 And that form evolves from the
objet a, cause of desire. So when Freud's little Anna dreams of tarts,
strawberries, and eggs, she is not merely making present the object
of a need (food/oral drive), but on account of the sexualization of
these objects, she can hallucinate a form that sisnjfjes. "It is from
the point at which the subject desires that the connotation of reality
is given in the hallucination:'3o When Socrates asks Agatho if love
is love of something, or of nothing, he shows that Agatho does not
possess the object of his desire, that he desires what is not there, that
love articulates itself in desire. Put another way, Socrates questions
Agatho about what he lacks, which is something that only seems
nothing. He questions him about his desire by questioning the coherence of the signifier: what signifier represents Agatho (as subject) for
another signifier. In doing this, Socrates gets rid of the idea that love
is transparent to itself, a simple thing.
Neither Agatho who spoke like a song, nor Alcibiades who was
drunk, knew exactly what they were saying:
speaking about
Love, they were covering over something about
But Socrates
knew, if we are to believe Lacan. He knew that it takes three to
love: the lover, the beloved, and the objet a that causes the fantasy
of love. And Socrates saw through love fantasies because he could
not accept being the beloved, that which is worthy of being loved.
This puts him in a different position from Alcibiades whose desire
knew no limits, and whose (ideal) ego fantasy of "self" does not
leave room for contemplating rejection. Put another way, Socrates'
special knowledge is the knowledge the hysteric possesses (whether
she knows it or not). Her desire is to support the degradation of an
"unworthy" father. 31 In this way, she supplements the lack in the

Wlwt is Love?


'..mlly lIovd. Hy unconsciously identifying with a defective being, she

herself into a sign of something Real (an objet a) in which

believe, and which marks the Other for her as well,
KI ..
her existence even as nothing. Lacan calls the thing
she identifies with the void, or density of emptiness which

1\('1' into the position of being only for others. Yet she is always
liNk (,1' learning that she does not constitute this sign of the gift (or
Mlv('r) li)r everyone. Since she lives the paradoxical dilemma of being
/11111\<'1 hillg and nothing at the same time, she readily understands the
111111'tilwss of desire. To protect herself, she wants to desire from a
l'uNiI ion of Noli me tansere. In this way she can remain unfulfilled,
Itl lIeurotic pain, but true to the Other by continuing to identify with is lacking in her family novel. The difficulty of sustaining this
pusilion is not that it does not work well. It does. But it plays at
I lit t'dge of loss itself, near the void where Lacan located death as a
1'.lIpable presence.
The dignity Lacan attributes to the neurotic is that (unlike normativt' narcissists who by definition cling closely to social law) he or
sht- wants to know what there is of the Real in the passion of which
hl- or she is the effect of a hidden object, das kern un seres Wesen. 32 But
i II place of knowledge subjects have the Symptom, the response given
to the question of not knowing what she or he is for the Other. Any
subject is the symptom of a loss of das Dins at the level of object.
The objet a Lacan designates as the void represents Socrates' central
identificatory position, as well as that of female hysterics. Socrates'
beauty arises from his position of sustaining himself by nothing. Not
"no-thing" as nUllity, but by the nothins that Lacan defines as pure
desire: la chose as the objet a. Perhaps one begins to see why Socrates could represent a possible model for the Lacanian analyst. The
analyst seeks to imitate lack itself in order to incite an analysand to
work with desire, without the analyst's confusing the transference
that comes back from the analysand with love to which he or she
must respond, or a desire to be satisfied.
If the analyst mimes the hysteric's unsatisfied desire, does this have
any relation to Socrates' giving his discourse on love in the guise of a
woman? Lacan points out that by making a sibyl speak, Plato was not
responsible for all he said as author, but nor was Socrates. Moreover,

,h1 Ulu-r can

1 (

,,,,I}t./ (/)



lillie RaB/and-Sullivan
What Is tovel

Lacan sees quite clearly that Socrates is making the woman in himself
speak (and Plato is listening). By his recourse to myth, Socrates could
use the elentic method in his own speech, as well as in questioning
others because, says Lacan, myth fills in the gap between desire and
jouissance, between what one seeks and what cannot yet be dialectically constructed, the Real. Still, the Real materializes language by
the gaze, the voice. the heterogeneous movements of the objet a burrowing into the flesh, burying our efforts to neatly delineate inside
from outside.
Socrates, like the Lacanian analyst, destroyed the fantasies (assumed realities) of his followers in order to unveil the truth that
everything is interpretation (desire, if we are to follow Lacan's train
of thought here). If our fantasies embroider our desires overtly or
covertly, then we see that fantasies have the structure of fiction. They
were created, imposed, and in turn cover a jouis-sens (something felt
but not symbolized as knowledge) that returns from the future-past
in imaginary traces that give body to the symptoms supporting our
illusions of being unified. Within this logic, why does Socrates' myth
of Love produce so profound an impact on his listeners? Does this
myth tell us anything about the powers of "wisdom" attributed to
Socrates? Insofar as Socrates' figure of Love possesses the attributes of
her mother (Poverty) -in Diotima's myth-and insofar as her mother
took the active role in conceiving Love, the roles of lover and beloved
(desirable one) are reversed from traditional expectations of male/
female sexuality. Is this because Socrates spoke as a hysteric? As one
who knows what it means to take the active role in desire, lest one
face the terror of being desired? I wonder if Lacan would not have told
Diotima's tale differently later when he had fotulated a concept of
the unconscious in relation to a symbol that is absent in the case of
Woman (who is a signifier, a category, a person, but not the essence
"Imaginarized" around the masculine symbol for sexual difference
as erroneously fantasized).33 In the latter case Socrates would not be
questioning the woman in himself, so much as Woman, symbolized
in early childhood at the level of the Imaginary (the visible) as lacking something erroneously attributed to males. Moreover, the incest
taboo between mother and son gives special value to her body and


Woman is man's symptom, the symptom of Man's

to link the power of desire to the feminine, while routing the

through philosophical investigation and other formalist
U/' ,wj('ntitic uses of language. Lacan depicts Socrates as the hysteric
who lakes the discourse of mastery up against the wall, pushes its
h.l!'k to the wall and beyond to ask how opinion (myth) becomes
knowledge. But he would not have thought of himself as questioning
11)(' principle of desire. Socrates questioned young men, and said he
W.I.., Icaching his followers to find answers in themselves. Since he

so successful as a teacher, how could he have understood that his

IlH'I hod was maddening, not because there are no final answers, but

the ordinary narcissism (ego myths) of most people (even

lid II iant students) does not easily let itself collapse into the emptiness
111.11 makes of desire a drive whose aim is to circumvent loss and deny
At the Yale University Law School in November 1975, Lacan said:

"I,'hysterique produit du savoir . . . Socrate est celui qui a comIlwl1ce. II n'etait pas hysterique mais bien pire: un maitre subtil. Cela
n'empeche pas qu'il avait des symptomes hysteriques."31 The hysteric
is usually a woman who plays the game of love unawares. But she
plays for a stake: to make the supposed master of knowing produce.
She is also a master, then, for she puts others to work. Socrates knew
what he was doing, Lacan says in 1975. He knew how to play the
heloved in the guise of the lover, without giving anything except the
"truth" that there is nothing to give but giving itself. Love is a consolation, on the side of everyday narcissism; desire a passion, on the
side of jouissance. Socrates knew what was in question in the love
game, and he played without soiling his hands. In The Banquet he
said to Aldbiades: "The eye of thought functions by opening itself,
in the measure that the scope of the Real eye works by lowering its
gaze.-But attention: there where you see something, I am nothing."35 In sharp contrast to Alcibiades, Socrates knew in what his
value lay. Alcibiades sees only Imaginarily. Desire is his "good" and
joins fantasy in love. No knowledge of loss-castration/real privation
-is present for him. Yet when rejected, the Freudo/Lacanian triad of
Real privation, Imaginary frustration, Symbolic aggression rears its
head. Is it surprising that Alcibiades was one of those who played a


Ellie RaBland-Sullivan

key role in denouncing Socrates? We have returned to Freud via Lacan

to find the SOurce of public aggression in the preconscious lining of
Real separations, loss itself.
Lacan argues that Socrates does not love. Instead of producing
metaphor-a substitution/someone or something else-he produces
metonymy/desire as it fades into the Real. But in pushing discourse
and knowledge to their limit, he unveils the secret of love: that in
love one gives what one does not have to give. The lover is a signifier
of lack and thus must look for a response, a sign, from the beloved
because love lies beyond demand, beyond transference effects. The
lover looks for this response in desire where an other is no longer an
equal, but something like an object; there where we as subjects are
dismissed, there where the horror of objectification is linked to how
we bring about our own depreciation as objects; there where encounters are missed encounters. Lacan's description sounds strangely like
Alcibiades describing Socrates as a Silenus. Going further, if love is
the decoy that somehow enters desire through the "drive," one must
ask what "drive" we are talking about? Lacan writes that between
love-what we lie on to dream-and desire there is a trauma: the
Oedipal one. Because we cannot face the bumbling signifying effects
left over (objet a) in our efforts to figure out what it is to be boy Or
girl, masculine or feminine, male or female, man or woman, wife or
husband, mother or father, we over (or under) -value the loved object
and thus save our dignity as subjects.
But Socrates paid. He died. I would argue that Socrates committed
two crimes against his social order. He did nft follow the universal
(local) commandment to ]OUIR, to
appetites of the body
first and foremost. Nor did he support the democratic ideals of the
city. I wonder how Nietzsche could have seen Socrates as a master
of reason? Perhaps if Nietzsche had read Lacan, Socrates would have
appeared to him as master of another kind of passion, one that obviates the need for an opposition between the Apollonian and the
Dionysiac. Are we to believe (if we believe there was a Socrates) that
he really chose to drink the hemlock only because he wanted to continue a discourse with immortal souls? Mind without body? Or was
he finally (unconsciously) weary of the desire/love/knowledge game?
Did he commit a kind of suicide (as hysterics sometimes do) because,

What Is Love? 749

beyond politics and philosophical mastery, the only game in town

was no longer so titillating, was, for him, without exit? If Socrates'
"final" knowledge was that the sa voir he loved best required reconstituting himself as a void, his death seems not so much political as
inevitable. Fatigue or cynicism?
The Symposium interested Lacan because he found Socrates in the
same dilemma as the analyst, that of trying to occupy a vacant place.
The analyst is created by the analysand as an illusion (semblant)
of something cast off, something not said in the analysand's Other,
thus cast off by the analysand (a). And so the analyst occupies a
place of silence, no matter what is said. What is said matters, and
what is not said matters. What matters to Lacan is to make the analysand aware that love or transference is a signifier, a relationship to
knowledge, to what one lacks in one's "self" knowledge and thus
loves in the Other. Calling on Socrates to help him in his teaching,
Lacan insisted that love (and its more truthful sister, hate) must be
taken into account in any knowledge quest. Why? Because love tries
to bridge the gap between desire and jouissance by encompassing the
objet a that makes the word flesh, and sometimes makes enigmatic
(symptomatic) words of our flesh.
Lacan describes the partial object as the pivot of human
transference, subjects usually identify their desire with their fantasies-i (a)-seeking to give desire a consistency that appears and can
be designated. Yet things do not actually run so smoothly. Transference fictions are fabricated for the addressee: someone or something
"supposed," that Lacan named the Other, or the unconscious signifying chains from which each person speaks.37 Put this way, Lacan's
claim that transference is not an interhuman situation becomes tenable. In the beginning was the WORD-not of creation-but of formation. What is the purpose of the word? To teach others what we lack
(in the Other) so they can respond to our lack: love us. But since our
lacks are not complimentary-as Aristophanes' myth suggests-how
can we save each other? The purpose of using transference becomes
a way of teaching, of asking the analysand to learn what he lacks
through taking account of love.
Lacan talked quite a bit in his reading of the Symposium about the
confusion of love with God or the gods. Certainly Greek mythology is


Ellie RaBland-Sullivan

exemplary in its display of such confusions. Lacan insisted that love

is not a god, for the gods belong to the Real. And the Real has to
do with suffering, death, and loss. The paradox is that humans cling
to jouissance, and idealize and eternalize their being (narcissism or
ego) which is a structure of alienation-a second death, the first
death being our animal death. In this sense the ego appears tragic,
although its very arrogance and blindness can turn it suddenly comic.
The space between these two deaths is veiled by beauty and by desire.
Yet if desire or truth is what is hidden in a subject who is constituted
by what it cannot know, only knows after the fact, then it makes
sense that the question would entail a profound dependence on the
order of language and others (love). On the one hand, desire is hidden; Simultaneously, it is transgressive, while the raison d'etre of the
unconscious is "I do not know."
Did Socrates not see the danger in his way of questioning? At first
glance, one wants to say no. His method was a science based on his
belief in an internal coherence of soul, life, and immortality. Yet
his very method defied a belief in unity. Much more interesting to
me than how much Socrates has been written over by Plato, or even
whether Socrates is an exemplary analyst, is the description of a person who tried centuries ago to advance knowledge through a powerful mixing of desire and love with words. This structure is the one
by which Lacan believes psychoanalysis was born. Breuer ran away
when he saw the impact of the talking cure in his patient's false pregnancy. But Freud, whom Lacan called a man of desire, stayed and
tried to learn something more about what V/e do know in terms of
what we do not know from women he
hysterics. If Socrates'
method hystericized his followers, one can only think he understood
something of the sense of devastation and desire he produced. Lacan
thinks he knew. His evidence is that Socrates did not involve himself
sexually with his students. Although he profited from being loved
and desired, he put up a barrier to separate knowing from desiring,
a barrier that would, paradoxically, make his "wisdom" even more
desirable. Lacan calls him a subtle master, but he does not call him
a sadist. Although Socrates was not a Lacanian analyst, he was a
forerunner of Lacan's insistence that in pushing a subject to say what
he or she wants through the pathways of love, the analyst'S own de-




sire (interpretation) must fade. While Freud controlled transference

by interpretation, by making the subject remember, Lacan attributed
to hysteria the status of an act. For him hysteria is itself a mode of
transference and a discourse structure. In other words, hysteria has
greater meaning for a Lacanian analyst than just that of a diagnostic tool. Lacanian teleology regarding the "cure" urges analysts to
mime hysteria, with the goal of intervening in the fixity of fantasies
in order to produce unconstituted desire.
Let me speculate about why Socrates' teaching was not curative.
Lacan described "Greek love" as sublimation or meconnaissance. If
we think of sublimation in relation to das Dina evoked by Freud as the
missed object, that is, missed by the memory trace in its identificatory
work of judging new perceptions in their most primitive organization
in relation to images, we can see the genius of Freud's discovery.38 We
can also see why Freud dropped his "project" as a set of unresolved
problems. Lacan picked up some of these problems to show that partial drives (invocatory, scopic, oral, etc.) thread through the Otherstarting as symbols or irreducible units, reappearing as symptomsand returning as objet a: missed or lost objects. Since the Real is not
assimilable in the Symbolic or Imaginary in a totalized way, these objects have taken a bite out of the ego. They demand sacrifice. Insofar
as sublimation seeks to represent the narcissistic object, to elevate it
to the level of the drive by placing it somewhere in relation to das
Dina, sublimation responds to unconscious "drives." Artistic products of sublimation were in Lacan's view the greatest achievements
of humanity. But sublimation is not repression, the unconscious, or
identification. Nor is it cure. Insofar as the sexual "drives" are partial, seeking in an other something to stand in for what is missing in
the Other, we seek to make ourselves heard, to resonate and reflect
in those erogenous zones that are empty sets (the mouth, the ear,
the eyes, and so on). The "drives" push people to make themselves
seen, or to see themselves as seeing. Does one not sense the daily
disappointments and pitfalls that mark our lives if this is true? Even
desperation to be heard or seen, sometimes at any cost. Not only for
individuals, but for groups and nations as well. Lacan taught analysts
and analysands alike to let what is missing fall. Such a trajectory
goes in the opposite direction of sublimation where the aim is to


What Is Love? 753

Ellie Raeland-Sullivan

grab, freeze, depict, and reify what is missing, all the while keeping
it enigmatic.
The meeting of a group of American analysts in southern California in January of 1988 whose topic was "What Is Love?" showed
none of the theoretical rigor of the Symposium, or of Lacan's reading
of it. According to Newsday , some topics discussed by the "shrinks
[who] keep eyeing it" (love) ranged from considerations of how preverbal emotions bring our parents into every adult relationship to
how romantic love has failed the human psyche. In the words of the
reporter, Jamie Talan: "At the turn of the century Sigmund Freud
theorized that people fall in love with their Oedipal parent. Today's
therapists have come to recognize something developmentally earlier
and far more intense: A time before language when parents were
nothing short of God-like, totally committed and nurturing."39 The
general consensus of the various analysts and psychiatrists there was
that people must grow out of looking for a repetition of this love in
order to become healthy; that to be obsessed with love is an infantile state; that people must not fall in love only to meet each other's
needs. In March of 1988 analysts and psychiatrists met again in New
Orleans to discuss fear of intimacy, marriage avoidance, romance,
and why real men should eat quiche. Although one is glad to hear of
American analysts speaking about love, one wonders where they can
go with the notion that love is a pleasure-principle infantilism to be
outgrown? If maturation is the model for health, where does desire fit
in? What new ideal of wholeness is
r?lJresented in a model that
makes love an Eryximachian malady t01)e cured by an Aristophean
Lacan knew that love can make us ill, make us
but he did
not jump to the conclusion that in order to be "well" or "whole"
we must (pretend to) give it up. Rather, he taught that love is the
pathway along which we can learn to make fine distinctions between
love and desire that may give us the freedom to take a position in
the Other (our desire), and toward others (our ideals). If we come
to understand what Socrates taught-that love is a powerful potion
laced with desire-perhaps we will agree with Lacan that desire (not
love) is every person's cause. Beyond desire, Lacan placed the objet a.
At the first ParisNew York Psychoanalytic Workshop, Jacques-Alain

Miller explained that the objet a introduces something else into language-something he called "light."40 How, he asked, does this small
a relate to the large A-the Symbolic order? Is it exterior or interior?
He offered us the word "extimacy" to try to transcend this exterior!
interior opposition. Again, I think of Alcibiades' description of Socrates as ugly on the outside and beautiful on the inside, the paradox
being that extimacy-perhaps what Augustine called God-is at the
very center of one's intimacy. Yet it seems lost or unattainable. In
this, it is precious, aBa/ma.
Is it not this strange connection between something in us both
alien and intimate that Plato portrays Socrates as showing his pupils
by confronting them with lack, leaving them both empty-handed,
and yet with their hands full, both perplexed and trapped in their
own fantasies? Lacan taught that the sublime object is not "it," but
only a substitute for das DinB. "The thing"-our truth, the Realis what we seek in an other through love articulated in desire. What
mystifies us, eludes us, or drives us mad, is that "it" remains just out
of grasp. Is "it" in us, or in an other? Where is it? What is it? We are
faced with a Wizard of Oz problem. Behind every figure or persona,
forms fade. When an analysand implicitly, or directly, asks "Who am
11" in order not to know what constitutes "1," Lacan says the analyst
never replies "You are this or that," as long as the analyst knows that
at the level of the Other the question articulated is "What am I?"
One of Lacan's lessons to his pupils was that an analyst can help an
analysand reconstitute an "I" only by getting the analysand to answer
the questions: "What do I want?" "What does the I lack?" "What is
suffering beyond my desire?"

/aC(lues Lacan, Le seminaire, livre VIII: Sur Ie transfert (1960-61), unpublished

rile Banauet. in The Works of Plato, ed. Thomas Taylor (New York, 19B,d, 3:


Lacan. Freud's Papers on Technique, ed. JacqueS-Alain Miller, trans. John

Forrestcr (New York, 1988), 274.
Donald Davidson, "The Philosophy of Plato," London Review of Books, 1 August


IIJM,,, 3-12.


5 Ibid., 22
6 Jacques Derrida, The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond. trans. Alan
Bass (Chicago, 1987). 374.
7 Ibid., 370.
8 Beyond the Pleasure Principle, in The Standard Edition of the Complete PsychologicalWorks of SigmundFreud, ed. and trans. James Strachey (London. 1953-'74), 18:

9 Jacques Lacan, "Of Structure as an Inmixing of an Otherness Prerequisite to Any

Subject Whatever," in The Structuralist Controversy: The Languages of Criticism
and theSciences of Man, ed. Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato (Baltimore,
1970), 187.



Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of PsychoAnalysis, ed. JacquesAlainMiller. trans. AlanSheridan (NewYork, 1978). 205.
Lacan, "OfStructure," 18788.
Ellie RaglandSullivan, "TheLimitsofDiscourseStructure:TheHystericandthe
Analyst," ProseStudies. forthcoming 1989.
JacquesLacan, Encore. ed.JacquesAlainMiller(Paris, 1975), 16; mytranslation.
Plato, Banquet, 46l.
Lacan, FourFundamentalConcepts, 197.205.
Ibid., 19798.
Ibid., 19899.
Ibid., 17486.
JacquesLacan, "KantavecSade,"inEcrits (Paris, 1966),776; mytranslation.
JacquesLacan,Ecrits:ASelection, ed.andtrans.AlanSheridan(NewYork, 1977),
3 15.



WhatIs Love? 755

Ellie Ragland-Sullivan

Plato, Banquet,492.
Ibid., 495.
Ibid.. 507.
Ibid., 529.
SeeJacques Lacan. HLe sinthome:Seminairedu 18 n<Jvembre 1975:' inJoyceavec
Lacan, ed.JacquesAubert (Paris, 1987),42.
SeeJeanGuy Godin, "Dusyrnptorne ason epure: Le sinthome," in Aubert, ed.,
JoyceavecLacan, 167.
Lacan,FourFundamentalConcepts. 190.
Leo Bersani,"IstheRectumaGrave?" October43 (1987): 212.
Lacan, FourFundamentalConcepts, 150.
Ibid.. 155.
See Ellie RaglandSullivan, "Dora and theNameoftheFather: TheStructureof
Hysteria,"inDiscontentedDiscourses:FeminineTextualInterventionPsychoanalysis, ed. MarleenBarrandRichardFeldstein (Urbana, 1989), 20840.
JacquesLacan, Leseminaire,livreIX: L'identification, 14 March 1962, unpublished

'n See EllieRaglandSullivan. "SeekingtheThirdTerm: Desire, thePhallus, andthe

MaterialityofLanguage." in Feminism and Psychoanalysis. ed. Judith Roof and
RichardFeldstein (Ithaca, 198 9),40 6 4.
'H JacquesLacan, "KanzerSeminar.Yale University," 24 25November 1975, in Scilicet6/7 (1976):73 1.
Vi Plato, Banquet, 34
'S6 JacquesLacan, L'ethiquedelapsychanalyse, ed.JacquesAlainMiller(Paris, 1986),
37 Ibid., 40.

38 SigmundFreud."TheProjectforaScientificPsychology,"inStandardEdition, vol.

39 JamieTalan,"WhatIsLove?" Newsday, 7 February 1988,8.

40 jacquesAlain Miller, "A and a in Clinical Structures."in Acts oftheParisNew
York psychoanalyticWorkshop: 1986, ed. StuartSchneiderman (NewYork. 1987),