Welcome to Lecture 16 of Alenka Zupančič’s What Is Sex? This lecture corresponds to Part 5 of Chapter 4 — Object-Disoriented Ontology, under the section title “Death Drive II: Lacan and Deleuze”.  For the necessary precursor to this lecture, Death Drive I, see Lecture 14 in this series. 

In this subsection we will cover four main topics:

  1. Lacan and Deleuze in conversation-communication
  2. Concepts: Difference, Repetition, Affirmation, Negativity
  3. New Materialism versus Dialectical Materialism
  4. Signifying One of the Real versus pure difference / multiplicity

Here we pick up with the two figures that Zupančič’s suggests are necessary to understand the contemporary theoretical problematics with the Freudian Death Drive: Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze.  These figures have become integral opposites in contemporary continental philosophy, with one figure, Lacan basing his career on a revisioning of the Freudian foundations; and one figure, Deleuze, basing his career on a revolt against the Freudian foundations.

Zupančič strategically starts the chapter by identifying their common ground in negation, namely: the rejection of the pleasure principle (as the lowering of tension) as the primary psychic drive (following Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle); and secondly, the rejection of the death drive as the desire for a return to the inanimate (homeostatic equilibrium).  As we covered in the first lecture on Death Drive, in the transition from Freudian metapsychology to Žižekian philosophy, death drive gains the paradoxical character of the drive to increase tension and disequilibrium.

To connect these two mega-movements in psychoanalysis and philosophy, Zupančič details a list of characteristics of the death drive in both Lacan and Deleuze, identifying where they converge, and where they diverge.  Convergence is here marked by the green stars.  Lacan and Deleuze both have the idea that Thanatos, as a figure of death drive, is primary, whereas eros, as a figure of life drive, is secondary or epiphenomenal; they both agree that the formal knowledge structures of history ignore an implicit metaphysics of lowering tension due to privileging eros to Thanatos; they both hold the view that the excess-excitation of life has no “other” existence independent of its own repetition, and that this excess emerges as a split, due to the fact that the desire to bind this excess and the excess itself always come together.  In other words, for both Lacan and Deleuze, due to the primacy of Thanatos over Eros, the drive of Eros is split from within, constantly attempting to reach the non-existent other in an excessive repetition that simultaneously desires to be bound to this other.  

Where Lacan and Deleuze diverge on death drive is on the “transcendentalization” of Thanatos, i.e. that Death is necessary for experience; where Deleuze claims that Thanatos is necessary for experience, and Lacan claims that Thanatos is not necessary for experience.  Following this divergence, Lacan’s death drive is linked to the figure of lamella as an indestructible immortal life which we may suggest is on the level of an imaginary-real.  One may think of this lamella as the location of a singular immortal drive that “knows no no” (beyond both life and death).  Whereas Deleuze’s death drive is linked to transcendental site of true affirmation, where each “monad” of life can express its unique individuality as a pure immortal multiplicity.  The subtle importance of these divergences will have consequences for how both Lacan and Deleuze formulations of death drive impact philosophical discussions on topics like free will, causality, individuality, as well as metaphysics of unity and multiplicity.

Zupančič then focuses in on Deleuze’s ontology in Difference and Repetition, that of the split between actuality and virtuality, individuality and possibility.  For Deleuze, repetition is on the side of actuality and individuality, whereas difference is on the side of virtuality and possibility.  Moreover, these sides are not equalled symmetrical, but radically unequal and asymmetrical, with the repetition of actuality and individuality having a primacy over difference of virtuality and possibility.  Zupančič goes on to make the point that this Deleuzian repetition should be understood on the psychoanalytic level of “symbolic material”, whereby the subject’s very constitution of identity is in repetition without any ground (i.e. an abyssal ground / death drive).

Quoting Zupančič (1):

“In a longer but crucial passage from Deleuze, which also directly relates repetition to the death drive: “Death has nothing to do with a material model. On the contrary, the death instinct may be understood in relation to masks and costumes. Repetition is truly that which disguises itself in constituting itself, that which constitutes itself only by disguising itself. It is not underneath the masks, but is formed from one mask to another, as though from one distinctive point to another, from one privileged instant to another, with and within the variations. The masks do not hide anything except other masks. There is no first term which is repeated… There is no bare repetition which may be abstracted or inferred from the disguise itself. The same thing is both disguising and disguised. A decisive moment in psychoanalysis occurred when Freud gave up, in certain respects, the hypothesis of real childhood events, which would have played the part of ultimate disguised terms, in order to substitute the power of fantasy which is immersed in the death instinct, where everything is already masked and disguised. In short, repetition is in its essence symbolic; symbols or simulacra are the letter of repetition itself. Difference is included in repetition by way of disguise and by the order of the symbol.””

The core ideas here include Zupančič’s emphasis on repetition without any original “real” identity (as in an “unmasking” that would eventually lead to the “truth beneath the surface”).  The subject, as subject of the death drive, is a mask without ground, a mask that creates its symbolic identity in repetitions ex nihilo.  Any idea that these repetitions can be linked to a past “real identity” (as in the original Freudian notions of an identity being constituted by a real childhood event), have to be discarded as searches for a lost being that never existed.  To accept the primacy of death drive is to accept that identity is always abyssal.  

Zupančič puts Deleuze into direct conversation with the original Freudian understanding of repression.  For the early Freud, and consequently, the early understandings of psychoanalytic mind, repression is primary because the pleasure principle is primary (as opposed to death drive).  Every attempt to satisfy the pleasure principle (repetition qua lowering tension) is an attempt to overcome the primal repression of existence itself (i.e. Freud’s infamous “original inanimate state of things”).  

However, for Deleuze this dynamic is reversed, we repress because repetition is primary, original.  The “original state of things” is repetition itself, and repression comes in secondarily, in order to “bind” or “conserve” this original repetition.  To quote Zupančič (2):

 “The traumatic surplus is produced only in and by repetition; if anything, repetition (and the excess or surplus object it necessarily introduces) is the cause of repression, not the other way around.”

In Freudian terms, the idea of a “primal repression”, paradoxically, requires first that there be an original repetition.  The original repetition is what introduces the primal repression.  

To then map this Deleuzian ontology onto what develops in Lacan’s ontology, we have the original “concrete repetition” (actual individual) which, as a death drive, already produces an “surplus excitation” for the non-other (what becomes known as primal repression).  In other words, the original repetition is already a desire for death, for non-being, for non-existence, and not for pleasure.  It is only the impossibility of the non-other that allows the pleasure principle to mask the underlying negativity of being.  

Then, we can say, in a Lacanian way, that this “missing other” (qua missing signifier, or -1), becomes the fundamental object of the drive, beyond any notion of pleasure or lowering of tension.  Here to quote Zupančič (3):  

“This faceless negativity is none other than the “impossible loss” that could never have registered as loss, the “aboriginal trauma” which is no individual’s trauma, but which, in speaking beings, is one with the (originally) missing signifier, the inbuilt loss at stake in the concept of “primary repression” and hence the concept of the unconscious.”

Thus we can see clearly the metaphysical structure that organizes the post-Freudian field of psychoanalysis.  Instead of an actual loss, or actual trauma, that happened somewhere concretely, and needed to be repressed from memory (forgotten); we have a type of virtual loss or trauma, of a purely virtual status, something that emerges from a concrete repetition, and which only retroactively becomes instantiated as a personal actuality.  The death drive is the drive to repeat this impossibility.  Thus, what is the ultimate negativity in Freud’s original understanding of the unconscious, becomes positivized, in a type of negation of negation.  Thus, logically, we strive for something “beyond” pleasure, “beyond” comfort and security, something which calls for more tension, more negativity, and more rupture of our present identity, which, as abyssal, is always-already in a death drive.

To put this all in a simple representation: we have concrete repetitions, we have the impossibility of this repetitions to be the “other” (as a pure virtual difference), and thus, all of these repetitions become “unified” against an “absent background”, the -1, the missing signifier, or the impossibility of being to be fully being, always split from within.

Here we can repeat Zupančič’s motto for the death drive: die again, die better!  We get in this motto the precise idea that the subject finds its truth, not in the solidification or extension of pleasure and comfort and security or stability; but in the constant affirmation of disruption, unpleasure, insecurity and instability.  If an identity can become paradoxically comfortable in discomfort, find pleasure in unpleasure, security in insecurity, then one “improves” (so to speak) the capacity to “die better” (or to “die differently” then any being that has ever existed).  

How does Deleuze as philosopher interact with this psychoanalytic metaphysical field developed in the post-Freudian Lacanian tradition?  Zupančič suggests that Deleuze’s notions of “difference” (in Difference and Repetition), and crack (in The Logic of Sense), capture the “unifying negativity” of the psychoanalytic metaphysical field.  To put it simply, it is in the “crack” of being, or the rift/hole of being, where extreme temperaments, wild instincts, and “big appetites” circulate.  All of a sudden the Deleuzian field and the Lacanian topology of the drive start to find an interesting overlap.  In Lacan, what we find in the “crack” (rift/hole) of being, is the partial object, the object-petit a, or the object-cause of desire.  In other words, what comes to occupy the impossibility of being as fully being, is the cause-of-desire as a partial object representative of the subject’s full satisfaction or enjoyment.  

To quote Zupančič (4):

“The proximity to the Lacanian notion and topology of the drive becomes even more striking in the following passage from The Logic of Sense: “The crack designates, and this emptiness is, Death — the death instinct. The instincts may speak loud, make noise, or swarm, but they are unable to cover up this more profound silence, or hide that from which they come forth and to which they return: the death instinct, not merely one instinct among others, but the crack itself around which all the instincts congregate.” This indeed sounds as if it could come directly from Lacan’s Seminar XI. The death instinct (death drive) is not one among the drives, but the very crack around which the drives congregate. (This is why Lacan says that “every drive is virtually a death drive.”) Each partial drive (or its object) is a repetition of this crack — a repetition which, in turn, constitutes this object as object.”

Here Zupančič skillfully puts Deleuze directly into conversation with Lacan, by noting that the crack of emptiness in being where the instincts swarm, for Deleuze, is structurally similar to the way the death drive operates in Lacan.  For Lacan, the death drive is not the multiplicity of instinctual passions, but the singular (black) hole which organizes all of the (epiphenomenal) life drives.  This singular black hole is the missing signifier, the -1, the being which, if it existed, would be the perfect other.  However, since the perfect other does not exist, what we have in its place, is the remainder of its non-existence, the partial objects, virtual entities that appear in the “crack”, in the “emptiness”, that IS Death.

Now to give this Deleuzian topology its proper Lacanian orientation vis-a-vis sexuality (i.e. where the “big appetites” circulate): we have concrete repetitions for Deleuze, which are partial drives for Lacan; we have pure difference for Deleuze, which is excess/surplus for Lacan; and we have unifying negativity, which in Lacan is the sexual real.  The sexual real is the -1, the missing signifier, the lack of the perfect other.  That is why sexuality cannot be thought of as just another drive or activity among drives and activities, but the place of a singularity that disrupts the coordinates of normal day-to-day being, and at the same time gives meaningful constitution to day-to-day being.  To quote Zupančič (5):

“Copulation is utterly “out of place in human reality, to which it nevertheless provides sustenance with the fantasies by which that reality is constituted.””

What this quote points towards is that what we call normal being would not even exist without the negativity of the sexual real, and at the same time, the sexual real is what always-already disrupts this normal being (or Dasein).  

Now here we reach, perhaps, the crucial difference between Lacan and Deleuze.  This difference is in regards to the status of positivity and negativity in inherent to repetition.  For Deleuze, a concrete repetition motivates itself as a positive force; whereas, for Lacan, concrete repetition (qua partial drives) is only by an impossibility, a negative force of non-being (or to be precise: the impossibility of the other that emerges as a result of existence itself).  This difference is a difference that makes a real difference, since, for Deleuze, the repetition of being is sustaining itself positively (a “lust for life”), whereas, for Lacan, the repetition of being can only sustain itself against the negativity of non-being (a “lust for death” or a “lust for the impossible”) which allows us to once again enjoy life.  

To return to our Lacanian topology of the sexual real, we find that being itself, only gains a “positive character” (or pleasurable character), against the background of a non-being which brings an excess enjoyment.  What is “enjoyed” is not the presence of a positive object, as in satisfying the original oral drive (qua big appetite), but the impossibility of ever finding an object that would actually satisfy the drive.  To quote Zupančič (6):

“Enjoyment is the (only) “being”, “substance” of that which is ontologically not, of the missing (“originally repressed”) signifier. […] This, I believe, is also what is implied in Brassier’s insight according to which “the unbindable excess [is what] makes binding possible.””

The paradox at work here is that binding is not possible with an available object, a present and attainable object.  Binding is only possible when the object (in actuality or illusion) is unavailable, absent, and ultimately unattainable.  When the object is unavailable, absent and ultimately unattainable, the partial drives qua concrete repetitions “logically sense” the presence of the missing signifier, the unifying negativity of the sexual real.  

Thus, we have the possibility to articulate the different metaphysical structures found in Lacan and Deleuze.  For Lacan, we may say we have the metaphysics of a “triadic not-one”.  The triad is constituted between the actual individual (structured by the repetitions of partial drives), virtual possibility (governed by differences/otherness or potentialities), and finally, a real negativity as the constitutive impossibility of the actual individual and virtual possibility, which brings everything into a “weird unity”.

In Deleuze, we find a “non-dual one”, where an actual individual (structured by repetitions) and its virtual possibilities (governed by differences/otherness or potentiality) are conceived as a “unity” or “non-dual one”.  What is missing in Deleuze, for Lacan, is the metaphysical articulation of the missing signifier, and the primordial repression.

Here we see that this metaphysical difference can be neatly organized in comparing the “psychoanalytic topography” of a centripetal force governed by the unifying negativity of the not-one; and the ‘virtual plane of immanence’ of a centrifugal force governed by the pure positivity of a multiplicity of differences.  In short: Lacan reaches the level of the negative one; whereas Deleuze affirms a multiplicity.  

To quote Zupančič (7):

“For psychoanalysis there is thus a difference between the fundamental negativity (a “minus”) and the excessive surplus (-enjoyment) that emerges at its place, and repeats the original negativity by linking, “gluing”, the signifiers with which this negativity appears in a certain order. For Deleuze, however, the excess/surplus is directly the pure productive excess of negativity (crack, Difference) repeating itself in different disguises and with different signifiers or symbols. The original negativity directly is the “positive”, “productive” movement or force (“drive”). This is also what the “plane of immanence” basically refers to: “The same thing is both disguising and disguised”. What disappears here — to repeat — is precisely the difference between the original negativity and the surplus that emerges at its place and binds the signifiers in a certain order (which necessarily depends upon contingencies of individual history).” 

This quote clearly captures what, for Zupančič, is the significant divergence between Lacan and Deleuze.  The virtual plane of immanence, constituted by a multiplicity of affirming drives, is not the same thing as a field that organizes around the negativity of the missing signifier.  In a field that organizes around the negativity of the missing signifier, we have contingent individual histories (concrete repetitions), but these contingent individual histories do not have the capacity to simply affirm their own individual being as a unique difference, but rather have to find their order in the way their contingent history is governed by a constitutive absence of being.

Now again, for Deleuze, this virtual plane of immanence as a pure multiplicity of individual differences, leads to what we may call a “realized ontology”.  This “realized ontology” is where Deleuze finds synergy with Spinoza and the notion of “univocity of being” as a “pure movement of Difference.  We may call this the “unity in difference” model of ontology.  There are pure differences and these pure differences in their totality are one univocal expression.  What is crucial is that this ontology is “positive” and “affirming” of its own identity.    

Again, we must differentiate this field and ontology from the Lacanian field and ontology.  For Lacan, we may say, that we are dealing with “Being qua Real” (where the Real is not an ontological entity, but rather Being’s own impossibility of Being); and the becoming of the subject is the contradiction of this impossibility (and not simply a pure affirmation of it self).  In very deep contrast to Deleuze, the Lacanian Real cannot be “liquefied” into a movement or a becoming; it is that movement and becoming must always tarry with a certain non-being that in-itself has no movement or becoming.  In Lacan, this ontology is necessary simply by fact that the primary “material” of psychoanalysis is the subject and its frustrated speech, which always gives clear proof of this Real.  

And this key difference between Deleuze and Lacan is what structures, for Zupančič, the difference between New Materialism and Dialectical Materialism.  For “New Materialism”, there is the desire to “get out of the subject”, reducing the subject to an insignificant point in the totality of being, and thus rejecting the whole of structuralism and the linguistic turn, which introduced unnecessary emphasis on subjectivity and language in the constitution of the real.  

In contrast, for dialectical materialism, we have materialism plus the subject (its own real), where a strong structural concept of the subject gains primacy, not in the consistency or coherence of its maps and symbolism, but rather in the very inconsistency and incoherence of its maps and symbolism.  What we find in the inconsistency and incoherence of the subject’s language, is the cause of desire, and the real that appears at this location.  The linguistic turn, with its emphasis on social power and deconstruction, is thus understood as a historical step towards the in-itself of the cause of subjectivity itself.  

This is where a psychoanalytic new materialism, perhaps best represented by philosopher Slavoj Žižek, is so important in articulating the difference between the meaning of Lacanian theory for contemporary philosophical debates.  For Žižek, the New Materialists are attempting to engage in the motion of destroying subjective illusions, to reach the real independent of the subject’s fantasies and distortions.  For example, a savoury salmon dinner is a subjective fantasy that obfuscates the real of the dead fish beneath; or a beautiful runaway model is a subjective fantasy that obfuscates the real of the flesh-blood interior of the body.  To quote Zupančič (8): 

“Materialism would thus mean[:] the reality minus the illusion which accompanies it and keeps transforming it into something quite different.”

Psychoanalytic New Materialism has to be understood in opposition to this form of New Materialism attempting to reclaim a real independent of subjective mediation.  The crucial philosophical point is that, when we think of reality “as it really is”, this is always-already a fantasmatic mediation by our very fantasy.  Thus to work the fantasmatic surplus as itself an aspect of reality as it really is, paradoxically allows us to reach reality “as it really is”.  The consequence, is that instead of attempting to get rid of the savoury dinner or the beautiful person as an illusion produced by subjective distortions, we see these as the very work of the imaginary-real itself.  We may say they are “objective fictions”.

To quote Zupančič (9):

“The thesis, in its simplest form, would be that we should consider the following possibility: if reality appears with an irreducible excess “over” itself, then this excess (or non-coincidence with itself) is not simply or only a subjective distortion, but should also be seen as indicative of a split or contradiction in this reality itself. How can this claim be made in any convincing way? Precisely by arguing for a specific concept of the subject, which starts from shifting the ground of the discussion from the question of affirming or denying the existence of reality independent of the subject, to a different kind of perspective which affirms, and combines, the following two propositions: (1) there is indeed a reality that exists independently of the subject (that is independent of subjective mediation or constitution); (2) the subject (the structure of subjectivity in the strong sense of the term, in its very excessiveness) is precisely that which gives us access to reality independent of the subject.”

This argument for the Psychoanalytic New Materialism is in fact a Hegelian argument.  Namely that we reach the in-itself of the Thing, not when we pretend that we are not a part of this reality, but when we include ourselves as a part of reality itself.

The practical result of this psychoanalytic new materialism is that we do not reach the real through a “neutral objectivity” independent of our subjectivity; we rather reach the real when we, as subjects, affirm our own contradictions and impossibilities in active engagement with the world.  This very motion brings us closer to “things as they really are” independent of subjectivity.  Consequently, the subject can be thought of as the objective embodiment of “things as they really are”, the very subjectivization of the paradox of the real, in its becoming.

Thus, we can break apart the difference between “New Materialisms” very cleanly and neatly.  On the one hand, the New Materialism following Deleuze results in a type of “object-oriented ontology” where the subject is just another object in a field of objects.  On the other hand, the New Materialism following Lacan results in a type of “object-disoriented ontology” where the irreducibility of the subject, and its persisting contradiction of reality, give us paradoxical access to a real independent of subjectivity. 

To quote Zupančič (10):

“The subject is not simply an object among many objects, it is also the form of existence of the contradiction, antagonism, at work in the very existence of objects as objects. It refers to the way in which the impasse/contradiction of reality in which different objects appear exists within this same reality. The subject exists among objects, yet it exists there as the point that gives access to possible objectivization of their inner antagonism, its inscription into their reality.”

To revisit the psychoanalytic topography we have been developing in this lecture, where we do not just have a multiplicity of pure differences in a becoming; but a multiplicity of differences that are becoming in a tension with the absent Real; we can find Zupančič’s vision of the place of the subject in this ontology (11): 

“Contrary to this, one can conceive of the subject as an existence/form of a certain difficulty (the Real), and as a “response” to it.”

Thus, what the subject is as a positive presence is never simply motivated to repeat in-itself, but is always responding to a type of Real as a difficulty or struggle to become.  

Now we can reflect on the deeper consequences of this ontology.  The main points Zupančič makes include the ideas that the subject is what makes contradictions accessible to thinking; and that by making these contradictions accessible to thinking, one accesses the Real itself.  Consequently, the Real is not some mystical absolute beyond our thought, but the very location where thinking struggles, tarries with impossibility, logical-formal paradoxes and impasses. 

To quote Zupančič on her formulation of materialism (12):

“Formulation of materialism: materialism is thinking which advances as thinking of contradictions.”

Now to return to our ideas on Deleuze’s ontology via-a-vis the virtual plane of immanence.  Recall that we labelled Deleuze’s plane of immanence as constituted by a centrifugal force, where difference as such repetitively realizes difference, from a pure motivation/affirmation for life itself.  In contrast to this vision, we stated that the Lacanian field was constituted by a centripetal force, where difference as such is not affirmed in and for itself, but exists as a type of central negativity around which other differences (the instincts/drives etc.), circulate.

Thus, we find deeper capacity to articulate the difference between repetition in Deleuze and Lacan.  In Deleuze, the consequence of a plane of immanence governed by a centrifugal force, is that we privilege rhizome over hierarchy; the positive over the negative; excess over lack; multiplicity over oneness; nomadism over static-existence; difference over identity; and the exceptional over the ordinary.  This ontology (and we may say ideology) has clearly has gained primacy in modern academic institutions and perhaps society at large.  Hierarchy is viewed as a tyranny, the negative has been expelled via various mechanical procedures, lack has been ignored for technocratic excess, the affirmation of multiplicity has overtaken the traditional notion of the one, a nomadic existence is perceived as sexier and more attractive then a stable-static one, difference of identity is seen as more fashionable then a conventional identity, and we now live in a world where everyone, especially due to internet culture, attempts to be exceptional.  

What we get in repetition in the Lacanian field, is simpler, due to the introduction of a central and pure negativity of difference, which forces us to paradoxically confront what the Deleuzian field rejects, namely: hierarchy, negativity, lack, oneness, stasis, identity and the ordinary… with new eyes.  With a psychoanalytic “new materialism”.

The Lacanian form of repetition is a repetition that is meant to deal with this unifying negativity.  In Deleuze, selection of difference (signification) is based on repetition for its own sake; in Lacan, selection of difference (signification) is based on a desire to end repetition, to bring closure to a spurious infinity without end.  In other words, selection of difference as a signifier is meant to found a hierarchy, make bearable negativity, to reconcile with lack, to gain some coherence of the one, to bring stability to the endless flux, to establish identity, and to make the extraordinary ordinary.  

To quote Zupančič (13):

“The new kind of One (S1), in its singularity, is very closely related to this foundational “hole”. Its function is to give a signifying support to the rift, the crack, implied by yet invisible in the deployment of differences (symptoms), and repeated with them. […] The unconscious is not a realm of being; the unconscious “exists” because there is a crack in being out of which comes whatever discursive (ontological) consistency there is. And the production of a new signifier puts us at the point of this “beginning” — which is not a beginning in time, but a beginning as a point in the structure where things are being generated. The new signifier is supposed to name the difference that makes all the difference(s).”

What Zupančič is articulating here is that what is at stake in Lacanian repetition is the founding of a new Master Signifier that can maintain itself given the rift/crack of being.  This Master Signifier, will become the location where the new can emerge, the difference which makes all the differences.  In our contemporary culture, it is this form of repetition, the repetition that can bring a closure to the spurious infinity, which needs to be re-established, as, may might say, a true infinity.  

Where this psychoanalytic new materialism would differ from tradition ontologies, is that this “new master signifier”, is found at the heart of every subject, and not imposed from without by an external “master”.  Such a master is always-already an imposter, although sometimes necessary as a processual mediation for the subjective becoming.  To quote Zupančič (14):

“The new signifier “is produced from the placing of the subject at the level of talking”.”

 What this means is that the new signifier needed to ride the rift in being, is something that emerges in free association of the subject’s becoming.  This signifier is something that reflects or responds to the Real.  In this sense, the general work of analysis can be thought of as a dangerous emancipatory weapon for the formation of new culture and new societies.

In the formation of a new Master Signifier the subject’s position within the symbolic order is reconstituted in terms of new relation to difference.  It is from the place of S1 qua Master Signifier, where the subject’s discourse gains coherence and consistency for the drive in a being constituted by rifts and cracks.  

To quote Zupančič (15):

“This new signifier depends on the subject’s individual and contingent history, yet it is not simply part of this history. It is what reiteration, repetition of this history in analysis, produces as a word that works. Works as what? As shifting something in our relation to the signifying order that (in)forms our being. […] Lacan writes: “It is by touching, however lightly, on man’s relation to the signifier — in this case, by changing the procedures of exegesis — that one changes the course of his history by modifying the moorings of his being.” This, then would be the more complex schema: the placing of the subject at the level of enjoyment in talking enables the production of the new signifier from the perspective of which it is now possible to effect a separation at the heart of the One-plus involves in repetition. This new signifier is the event proper, and it triggers a new subjectivization.” 

Here Zupančič seems to be suggesting that the instantiation of a psychoanalytic new materialism is one, not where the subject is reduced to just another object, but where the subject and its free associations are necessarily front and centre in the realm of object relations.  It is through giving the subject a central place and free and open discourse, that it can find its “One-plus” in a self-mediate Event that can consequently trigger the subjectivization necessary to drive in being.   

Here we see the final representation of the Lacanian topography in relation to the formation of a Master Signifier.  One can see on the left the unifying negativity where all the instincts and drives circulate in their primordial repetitions; then in the centre one can see how the Master Signifier intervenes, cutting off routes to satisfaction of these drives by organizing all of their motion through its coherence/consistency; and then on the right, from this repression, we have the formation of a new order, which retroactively re-organizes all of the wild drives, simultaneously opening up new possibilities for exploration and expansion.  It is this subjectivization of the wild drives, which is needed to sustain the separation from the real necessary for the drive.  

To repeat, in this subsection we covered four main topics:

  1. Lacan and Deleuze in conversation-communication
  2. Concepts: Difference, Repetition, Affirmation, Negativity
  3. New Materialism versus Dialectical Materialism
  4. Signifying One of the Real versus pure difference / multiplicity

Works Cited

(1) Zupančič, A. 2017. Chapter 4 – Object-Disoriented Ontology. p. 112-113.

(2) ibid. p. 113.

(3) ibid.

(4) ibid. p. 115.

(5) ibid. p. 116.

(6) ibid. p. 117.

(7) ibid. p. 118.

(8) ibid. p. 120.

(9) ibid. p. 121.

(10) ibid. p. 122.

(11) ibid.

(12) ibid. p. 123.

(13) ibid. p. 126.

(14) ibid. p. 127.

(15) ibid.


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