Second twist: the object becomes cause of desire and vector of anxiety

Lacan revisited the function of the object, discussed by Freud, removing it definitively from the sphere of needs. The breast, which was in question both for Ali and for Sacha, “in its function as object, is to be revised in its entirety”.19 It is, says Lacan, a sort of “amboceptive object”, planted on, implanted in, the mother’s body.20 How are we to understand this unless we conceive of the breast as that which emerges from the two, from the baby just as much as from the mother? Lacan gave a more precise explanation: “In the same way that the placenta forms a unit with the child, there stand, together, child and mamma.” 1 At first sight, this does not appear so different from the famous unity of ‘nipple-mouth’ which has become part of the psychoanalytic tradition which remains faithful to Freud and to the note in ‘Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning’.22 But Lacan went further: he wanted to give an account of the fact that the object functions structurally both as an object of desire and as a locus of anxiety. If one insists on retaining the unity of ‘nipple-mouth’, then no account is taken of the dimension of desire. How can we desire something which belongs to us and is at our disposal? Lacan never failed to remind us that desire proceeds along the pathway of lack. And for the same reasons, the unity model takes us no further in explaining how anxiety comes into the equation. The entire clinic of orality shows us that the breast is both the object of desire and the locus of anxiety. It is for this very reason that Lacan invited us to revisit the function of the object.

Many who are not of the Lacanian persuasion have denigrated what Lacan wanted to conceptualise as “object a". However, 1 am going to try to demonstrate its pertinence if one wishes to delineate the emergence of the subject from a structural perspective, and the clinical consequences which ensue. Rather than clinging on to the myth of a unity with the object, Lacan presented the object in its function of division. Thus the object would be divisible, and “so we need to conceive of the cut as lying between the mamma and the maternal organism itself’.23 So the breast “presents itself as something in between the offspring and its mother”. 4 This signifies that one can grasp it as well as let go of it. Lacan did not invent anything here, he simply observed. What do we see when we look closely at a baby at the breast? “He detaches himself from the breast, he plays.”-5 Lacan’s observation was very precise. He reported that the baby,

After the first experience of cession, whose already subjectified character makes itself tangibly felt with the first signs that flash across his face as he starts, nothing more, to form the expression of surprise, he plays at detaching himself from the breast and taking it up again.26

From this observation, Lacan drew a conclusion. The object a, the partial and divisible object constituted by the breast in the field of orality, the look in the field of specularity, the voice in the field of invocation and touch in the field of the tactile, becomes that which connects the baby with the other. It is not merely an object to be coveted; it is also, for the mother as much as for the baby, a locus of anxiety. But just a moment! said Lacan, “The locus of the anxiety point does not merge with the locus at which the relation to the object of desire is established.”27

The breast becomes an object cause of desire because it has the power to connect the mother and the baby, while the locus of anxiety is to be found beyond that which unites the child with the breast. “The anxiety point lies at the level of the mother.”28 “It is in some sense exiled in the Other, because, at the level of the mother, it is suspended from the existence of her organism.”29 How are we to understand that? It seems to me that Lacan was thinking in a quite Kleinian way here. Because that signifies that the locus of anxiety is radically on the side of the Other. For the mother, it would be on the side of the baby, with its voracity and sometimes its strangeness, and this explains why she may feel she is being vampirised, or feels so alienated from the baby, or perhaps so responsible for him or her. From the baby's point of view, anxiety is on the side of mother, as being that which can always elude the child, in the form of lack or absence.

The fact that the breast is a divisible object makes it a matter of indifference to the baby whether it is the breast that is offered, or a bottle or a feeding tube; provided, of course, that there is something of the Other in circulation along with the said breast or bottle or tube. The breast thus becomes an object cause of desire at the same time as it becomes a vector tending towards a locus of anxiety situated in the Other. It is one of the forms of the object a, around which everything is set in motion, and around which we never cease to circle; and at the same time, it is what we will never cease to stumble against. It seems to me that clinical work with premature babies has drawn a great deal from this teaching, because nowadays we can observe caregivers who administer tube-feeding quite differently from the way it was done in the past. Enlightened and orientated by the concept “object a cause of desire”,30 these caregivers take pains to offer a quality of presence which leads them, before and during the feed, to stroke the perioral zone of the baby, while talking to him or her. They arouse in these babies the desire and the pleasure which will provoke salivation and sucking, exactly as reading the menu in a restaurant may make our mouth water. Because “even when you stuff your mouth - the mouth that opens in the register of the drive - it is not the food that satisfies it, it is, as one says, the pleasure of the mouth”.31 And just as we may prolong the pleasure by reading and re-reading the menu, as if eating with our eyes were more delectable than eating what we put in our mouth, the drive will find its satisfaction, not by attaining its object but by “circling around it”.32

This is how Lacan formulated his theory of the circuit of the drives. What he had in mind was, on the one hand, the primordial failure which prevents any assimilation of the object to the satisfaction of a need; and on the other hand, the different vicissitudes of the drive set out by Freud.

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