Comments on three accounts of contemporary conditions

by Bruno de Florence on May 26, 2012

Presentation for a cartel session of the Symbolic Order in the 21st Century, by Bruno de Florence


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The attribute male/female is handed over at birth upon a visual inspection of the primary characteristics. The giver is the Scientific Other, after the Aristotelian category of Genus was introduced in Natural Sciences by Jean­Baptiste Lamarck in the early part of the 19th century, and the introduction of the category of gender by John Money in 1955 [1].

This instance shows the fragility of such categories, as this man turns out to have had a hidden second primary characteristic. It is also possible that the birth nurse foreclosed what her eyes saw, since her Scientific Other had taught her to expect one primary characteristic only.

At any rate, it allowed the subject in question to find an anchorage point in the symbolic, since he/she had now a reason for the feelings he had had for a long time of “feeling like a woman”. The results of an ultra­sound scan “validated everything I had always felt inside”. He was not therefore imagining things. Officially he had been a man, and not without success, given the 3 children issued from the marriage. For him, heterosexual sexuality worked. It also continues to work, as the couple still shares a bed, even though he has declared himself to be “a woman”, thanks to the Other of 20th century Science. That he has never experienced menstruation or been pregnant shows the imaginary dimension of the process of sexuation and its fluidity in contemporary times. Freud had underlined this [2], and Lacan had formulated a combinatorial approach to sexuation with his sexuation graph [3].

Sexuation is therefore the result of a process of signifiers. Further, when that process does not quite take, a suppléance (replacement, deputisation) happens, and an ideal image is superimposed onto the void, and is reinforced by the symbolic [4]. It is what Lacan calls a colouring: “…in sex, there is nothing more than, I would say, a being of colour. This in itself suggests that there can be a woman with the colouring/shading of a man, or a man with the colouring/shading of a woman [5]”.


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There are more and more media reporting of young males, healthy by all accounts, dying of heart attacks, a fact well known to the medical profession. In this instance, there are no signs of obesity, drug or drinking abuse, or other clinical factors. The cases of British footballer 23 year old Fabrice Muamba, who in March 2012 collapsed (and recovered) from a heart attack while playing a football match, and 25 year old Italian footballer Piermario Morosini who died during a match from a heart attack in April 2012, also come to mind. Is this a 21st century manifestation of what I term the Big Jouissance, or Jouissance taking its revenge against the imaginary identifications of health & fitness, so prevalent currently in the Western world? Is the answer to the “Enjoy!” imperative a “thanks but no thanks, I won’t have no more of it”?


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A 27 year old man finds out that he had sex with a girl met the evening before in a pub, even though he “was so out of it with drink”, and does not “properly remember any of it”. As a consequence, he feels “dirty, used and violated”, and wonders if “what she did [is] against the law”. He does not wish to go to the police as he thinks he “would just get laughed at”. Overall, he “no longer feels like a man, just an empty shell”.

Here, a heterosexual man has an encounter with the Other of his body, in that his body correctly functioned BUT without his knowledge/will/permission. He therefore discovered that his body has its own knowledge, a knowledge he himself has no knowledge of. The inscriptions of the sensations (as memory­traces) during the sexual act took place and their remembering was probably enjoyed, since he has feelings of shame. As a result, a vacillation occurs, and he is questioning his position as “active male” in the symbolic. I think the phenomenon of the interrupted gaze is also at play, the gaze being his enjoyment of another kind of sexual jouissance where he is the passive one, the cutting being getting laughed at if he went and filed a complaint, thus asking for the support of a phallic third. He has discovered that there are other ways to be a male during sex with a female, not accounted for in the symbolic, hence his “having been raped”. The question of imaginary castration also comes to the fore: if my organ is not mine as such, whose is it? What a Krawallmachen! [6]


[1] Cf. Richard Klein, The Birth of Gender, in Psychoanalytical Notebooks, Issue 11, December 2003. [2] Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, 1905, S.E. Vol. 7.

[3] Sexuation graph is in Seminar XX: Encore: session of 13th March 1973.   Further details of availability at  Seminar XX: Encore: 1972 – 1973: Jacques Lacan or  here .

[4] Cf. Lacan, Seminar 3, The Psychoses, 1955­1956. [English translation available for downloading here]   Also: Joseph Eisler, A man’s Unconscious Phantasy of Pregnancy in the Guise of Traumatic hysteria, International Journal of Psycho­Analysis, volume II, Sep/Dec 1921, Part 3/4. . (Details of availability  here )  French version of Eisler’s article on  Liliane Fainsilber’ site.

[5] « … dans le sexe, il n’y a rien de plus que, je dirais l’être de la couleur. Ce qui suggère en soi qu’il peut y avoir femme couleur d’homme, dirais­je, ou homme couleur de femme ». Séminaire 23, Le sinthome, 9 mars 1976. My translation.   [Cormac Gallagher’s translation, published at , available  hère.  Seminar XXIII: The Sinthome: 9th March 1976: Chapter VIII of Cormac Gallagher’s translation available to download  here. ]

[6] Cf. Lacan, Seminar 10, Anxiety, 14 November 1962.  [ Details of its availability in English translation  here or here:  Jacques Lacan: Seminar X: The Anxiety (or Dread): 1962­ 1963: Text in English & References