The Radical Critique Implicit in Lacan
We have seen how Hegel solved the paradox of subjectivity in jurisprudence through the concept of exchange. Similarly, in Lacan, the psychoanalytic subject tries to cure the paradox of desire and castration—the need to simultaneously be, have, enjoy, and lose the Phallus —through an attempted regime of exchange. As I have just said, the law which castrates and thereby constitutes the psychoanalytic subject is the law of prohibition: thou shalt respect the borders of the symbolic order by renouncing the real and the Feminine in the form of jouissance; thou shalt no longer be the Phallus or enjoy it.
This attempt at resolution is, of course, impossible. The Feminine cannot be exchanged because she is lost in the real and cannot be described in the symbolic. Men invent imaginary fantasy images of Femininity to take her place. Of course, this makes her even harder to grasp. As the Hegelian dialectic of property showed, by treating the subject of love as the object of desire (in the regime of possession and exchange), men cannot achieve the goal of affirmative subjectivity as intersubjectivity. Since their own femininity is prohibited, women often hopelessly attempt to live this fantasy image. They proudly proclaim that they are speaking in a feminine "different voice," when they are, in fact, merely reciting a script written for them in the Masculine.
The Lacanian story is one of emptiness and desire. It denies the sexual status quo by showing that masculine superiority is a sham, a pathetic lie. It reverses our sexual stereotypes—accepted as much by radical and cultural feminists as by traditionalists—that men are more independent and autonomous and women more relational and communitarian. It is only in our masculine aspect that we can be members of the symbolic community. The radicalism of Lacan resides in the fact that it is not a mere reversal in the sense of a mirror image which would merely reflect back upon the status quo. Rather, it is a subtle warping and revalorization of the status quo. The Lacanian community of castrating Fathers is not that of warmth and fulfillment imagined by cultural feminists. It is based on repression, castration, and law. It is not, therefore, surprising that men often engage in aggressive attempts at individuality in order to achieve a separation from community which they cannot
achieve. Similarly, as Julia Kristeva argues, many women engage in desperate clinging and seemingly relational behavior in a desperate attempt to have relations and achieve the closeness of community which is always denied them.
If this were all that Lacan had to say, however, his theory would merely be a depressing condemnation of society. It is depressing precisely because it simultaneously reveals our life as a fiction, but as one which we are incapable of rewriting. There is, however, another optimistic, affirmative, and creative way of reading Lacan.
Through castration we have exiled the Feminine—immediate relationship and jouissance —to the real. As we have seen, the real is the realm of the impossible, of the limit. This constitutes the Feminine as radical negativity. We Americans with our "positive attitude" assume that the negative is bad, that to identify the Feminine with the negative is to denigrate her. Indeed, it is precisely the negative hole at the center of the split masculine Lacanian subject which is often considered his most depressing discovery. This is a serious misreading.
Hegel shows that negativity is the very condition of freedom. It is the failure of constraints. It is the emptiness as the heart of subjectivity which allows us to desire and love. Consequently, although Lacan speaks of the Masculine as the subjective position, only the Feminine in her radical negativity can symbolize the free subject.
One might assume from this that since the Feminine is exiled to the real, then, by definition, freedom cannot be achieved. No. Castration as the incest taboo is an alchemy. It turns the impossible into the forbidden. It is not merely impossible for a speaking subject to enter the real, to be feminine. The Name-of-the-Father prohibits us from doing so. Prohibition, however, necessarily implies the possibility of its transgression. In denying the Feminine it, in fact, creates the Feminine as the possible—the not yet.