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The Object Of Its Affection

The Letter, Issue 16, Summer 1999, Pages 92 - 126


THE OBJECT OF ITS AFFECTION

Reconsidering Temporality and Object-Choice in Lacan's Theory of Sexual Difference

Adrian Johnston


Introduction

... when one gives rise to two (quand un fait deux), there is never a return. They don't revert to making one again, even if it is a new one. Aufhebung is one of philosophy's pretty little dreams.[1]

Despite its foundational orientation towards the notion of sexuality, Freudian psychoanalysis ironically spends a scant amount of time speaking of what one is most inclined to associate with making love - that is, love itself. It is only as regards two interlinked phenomena that Freud feels compelled to address the topic of amorous sentiments. The first location where love finds a place in psychoanalysis is the dynamic of the transference. In the transference, love is merely the emotional epiphenomenon of a duped, deceived ego that misrecognises its interlocutor. The second schema to which analysis relegates love is the mechanism of object-choice. The notion of such a mechanism maintains that the individual's personal history of loving relationships is nothing more than the repetition of a limited number of childhood refrains: 'love consists of new editions of old traits ... But this is the essential character of every state of being in love. There is no such state which does not reproduce infantile prototypes'.[2] In both the transference and object-choice, Freud posits that love is always a matter of a case of mistaker. identity'; the psyche cannot help but cast the shadow of irrecoverable past ties upon whatever it encounters in its present milieu.

According to Freud, instead of achieving a rapport with others through emotion, one simply relates to a set of iterable traits, marks, and characteristics that psychoanalysis treats as divorced from their anthropomorphic vessels. Each love object is almost entirely reducible to the unconscious coordinates which serve as the triggers of desire (that is, the partial objects: a glint in the eye, a certain modulation of the voice, a manner of posture, etc.). Each partner in the patient's life history is merely a carrier of one of these 'signs of 'love". Amorous sentiment is the 'svmptom' catalysed by the appearance of an unconscious indicator of this type. In this sense, psychoanalysis can treat love as a symptomatic manifestation of a part-object fetish.[3] This is the set of Freudian claims that Lacan adopts in pronouncing that, 'there's no such thing as a sexual relationship.[4]

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