Of the foundation of consciousness - The privilege of the gaze as objet a -
The optics of the blind - The phallus in the picture

Vainement ton image arrive a ma rencontre
Et ne m'entre ou je suis quz' seutement la montre
Toz te tournant vers moi tu ne saurats trouver
Au mur de mon regard que ton ombre rivie

Je suis ce malheureux comparable aux mzroz'rs
Qui, peuvent réflichir mais ne peuvent pas voir
Comme eux mon oeil est vide et comme eux habiti
De l'absence de toi qui fait sa cicite1

You may remember that, in one of my earlier lectures, I began by quoting the poem, Contrechant, from Aragon's Le Fou d'Elsa. I did not realize at the time that I would be developing the subject of the gaze to such an extent. I was diverted into doing so by the way in which I presented the concept of repetition in Freud.

We cannot deny that it is within the explanation of repetition that this digression on the scopic function is situated -no doubt by Maurice Merleau-Ponty's recently published work, Le Visible et l'invisible. Moreover ' it seemed to me that, if an encounter were to be found there, it was a happy one, one destined to stress, as I shall try to do today, how, in the perspective of the unconscious, we can situate consciousness.

You know that some shadow, or, to use another term, some 'resist'-in the sense one speaks of 'resist' in the dying of material-marks the fact of consciousness in Freud's very discourse.

But, before taking things up again at the point we left them last time, I must first clear up a misunderstanding that appears to have arisen in the minds of certain members of the audience concerning a term I used last time. Some of you seem to have been perplexed by a word that is simple enough, and which I commented on, namely, the ychic. Apparently, it sounded to some of you like a sneeze. Yet I made it quite clear that it was the adjective formed from tuchi just as psychique (Psychical) is the adjective corresponding to psuchi (psyche). I used this analogy at the heart of the experience of repetition quite intentionally, because for any conception of the Psychical development as elucidated by psychoanalysis, the fact of the tycliic is central. It is in relation to the eye, in relation to the eutuchia or the dustuchi'a, the happy encounter and the unhappy encounter, that my lecture today will be ordered.


I saw mysef seeing myself, young Parque says somewhere. Certainly, this statement has rich and complex implications in relation to the theme developed in La Jeune Parque, that of femininity-but we haven't got there yet. We are dealing with the philosopher, who apprehends something that is one of the essential correlates of consciousness in its relation to representation, and which is designated as I see mysef seeing mysef. What evidence can we really attach to this formula? How is it that it remains, in fact, correlative with that fundamental mode to which we referred in the Cartesian cogito, by which the subject appreliends himself as thought?

What isolates this apprehension of thought by itself is a sort of doubt, which has been called methodological doubt, which concerns whatever might give support to thought in representation. How is it, then, that the I see mysef seeing mysef remains its envelope and base, and, perhaps more than one thinks, grounds its certainty? For, I warm mysef by warming mysefis a reference to the body as body-I feel that sensation of warmth which, from some point inside me, is diffused and locates me as body. Whereas in the I see myself seeing myself, there is no -such sensation of being absorbed by vision.Furthermore, the phenomenologists have succeeded in articulating with precision, and in the most disconcerting way, that it is quite clear that I see outside, that perception is not in me, that it is on the objects that it apprehends. And yet I apprehend the world in a perception that seems to concern the immanence of the I see myself seeing myself. The privilege of the subject seems to be established here from that bipolar reflexive relation by which, as soon as I perceive, my representations belong to me.

This is how the world is struck with a presumption of idealization, of the suspicion of yielding me onlv my representations. Serious practice does not really weigh very heavy, but, on the other hand, the philosopher, the idealist, is placed there, as much in confrontation with himself as in confrontation with those who arc listening to him, in an embarrassing position. How can one deny that nothing of the world appears to me except in my representations? This is the irreducible method of Bishop Berkeley, about whose subjective position much might be s aid-including something that may have eluded you in passing, namely, this belong to me aspect of representations, so reminiscent of property. When carried to the limit, the process of this meditation, of this reflecting reflection, goes so far as to reduce the subject apprehended by the Cartesian meditation to a power of annihilation.

The mode of my presence in the world is tyie subject in so far as by reducing itself solely to this certainty of being a subject, it becomes active annihilation. In fact, the process of the philosophical meditation throws the subject towards the transforming historical action, and, around this point, orders the configured modes of active self-consciousness through its metamorphoses in history. As for the meditation on being that reaches its culmination in the thought of Heidegger, it restores to being itself that power of annihilation-or at least poses the question of how it may be related to it.

This is also the point to which Maurice Merleau-Ponty leads us. But, if you refer to his text, you will see that it is at this point that he chooses to withdraw, in order to propose a return to the sources of intuition concerning the visible and the invisible, to come back to that which is prior to all reflection, thetic or non-thetic, in order to locate the emergence of vision itself. For him, it is a question of restoring--for, he tells us, it can only be a question of a reconstruction or a restoration, not of a path traversed in the opposite direction-of reconstituting the way by which, not from the body, but from something that he calls the flesh of the world, the original point of vision was able to emerge. It would seem that in this way one sees, in this unfinished work, the emergence of something like the search for an unnamed substance from which I, the seer, extract myself. From the toils (rets), or rays (rais), if you prefer, of an iridescence of which I am at first a part, I emerge as eye, assuming, in a way, emergence from what I would like to call the function of seeingness (voyure).

A wild odour emanates from it, providing a glimpse on the horizon of the hunt of Artemis-whose touch seems to be associated at this moment of tragic failure in which we lost him who speaks.

Yet is this really the way he wished to take? The traces that remain of the part to come from his meditation permits us to doubt it. The reference-points that are provided in it, more particularly for the strictly psychoanalytic unconscious, allow us to perceive that he may have been directed towards some search, original in relation to the philosophical tradition, towards that new dimension of meditation on the subject that analysis enables us to trace.

Personally, I cannot but be struck by certain of these notes, which are for me less enigmatic than they may seem to other readers, because they correspond very exactly to the schemata -with one of them, in particular-that I shall be dealing with here. Read, for example, the note concerning what he calls the turning inside-out of the finger of a glove, in as much as it seems to appear there-note the way in which the leather envelops the fur in a winter glove-that consciousness, in its illusion of seeing itsefseeing itsef, finds its basis in the inside-out structure of the gaze.


But what is the gaze?

I shall set out from this first point of annihilation in which is marked, in the field of the reduction of the subject, a breakwhich warns us of the need to introduce another reference, that which analysis assumes in reducing the privileges of the consciousness.

Psycho-analysis regards the consciousness as irremediably limited, and institutes it as a principle, not only of idealization, but of méconnaissance, as-using a term that takes on new value by being referred to a visible domain-scotoma. The term was introduced into the psychoanalytic vocabulary by the French School. Is it simply a metaphor? We find here once again the ambiguity that affects anything that is inscribed in the register of the scopic drive.

For us, consciousness matters only in its relation to what, for propaedeutic reasons, I have tried to show you in the fiction of the incomplete tcxt-on the basis of which it is a question of recentring the subject as speaking in the very lacunae of that in which, at first sight, it presents itself as speaking. But I am stating here only the relation of the pre-conscious to the unconscious. The dynamic that is attached to the consciousness as such, the attention the subject brings to his own text, remains up to this point, as Freud has stressed, outside theory and, strictly speaking, not yet articulated.

It is here that I propose that the interest the subject takes in his own split is bound up with that which determines it -namely, a privileged object, which has emerged from some primal separation, from some self-mutilation induced by the very approach of the real, whose name, in our algebra, is the objet a.

In the scopic relation, the object on which depends the phantasy from which the subject is suspended in an essential vacillation is the gaze. Its privilege-and also that by which the subject for so long has been misunderstood as being in its dependence-derives from its very structure.

Let us schematize at once what we mean. From the moment that this gaze appears, the subject tries to adapt himself to it, he becomes that punctiform object, that point of vanishing being with which the subject confuses his own failure. Furthermore, of all the objects in which the subject may recognize his dependence in the register of desire, the gaze is specified as unapprehensible. That is why it is, more than any other object, misunderstood (méconnu), and it is perhaps for this reason, too, that the subject manages, fortunately, to symbolize his own vanishing and punctiform bar (traz't) in the illusion of the consciousness of seeing oneself see onese4f, in which the gaze is elided.

If, then, the gaze is that underside of consciousness, how shall we try to imagine it?

The expression is not inapt, for we can give body to the gaze. Sartre, in one of the most brilliant passages of L'Étre et le Niant, brings it into function in the dimension of the existence of others. Others would remain suspended in the same, partially de-realizing, conditions that are, in Sartre's definition, those of objectivity, were it not for the gaze. The gaze, as conceived by Sartre, is the gaze by which I am surprised-surprised in so far as it changes all the perspectives, the lines of force, of my world, orders it, from the point of nothingness where I am, in a sort of radiated reticulation of the organisms. As the locus of the relation between me, the annihilating subject, and that which surrounds me, the gaze seems to possess such a privilege that it goes so far as to have me scotoniized, I who look, the eye of him who sees me as object. In so far as I am under the gaze, Sartre writes, I no longer see the eye that looks at me and, if I see the eye, the gaze disappears.

Is this a correct phenomenological analysis? No. It is not true that, when I am under the gaze, when I solicit a gaze, when I obtain it, I do not see it as a gaze. Painters, above all, have grasped this gaze as such in the mask and I have only to remind you of Goya, for example, for you to realize this.

The gaze sees itself-to be precise, the gaze of which Sartre speaks, the gaze that surprises me and reduces me to shame, since this is the feeling he regards as the most dominant. The gaze I encounter-you can find this in Sartre's own writing -is, not a seen gaze, but a gaze imagined by me in the field of the Other.

If you turn to Sartre's own text, you will see that, far from speaking of the emergence of this gaze as of something that concerns the organ of sight, he refers to the sound of rustling leaves, suddenly heard while out hunting, to a footstep heard in a corridor. And when are these sounds heard? At the moment when he has presented himself in the action of looking through a keyhole. A gaze surprises him in the function of voyeur, disturbs him, overwhelms him and reduces him to a feeling of shame. The gaze in question is certainly the presence of others as such. But does this mean that originally it is in the relation of subject to subject, in the function of the existence of others as looking at me, that we apprehend what the gaze really is? Is it not clear that the gaze intervenes here only in as much as it is not the annihilating subject, correlative of the world of objectivity, who fecls himself surprised, but the subject sustaining himself in a function of desire?

Is it not precisely because desire is established here in the domain of seeing that we can make it vanish?


We can apprehend this privilege of the gaze in the function of desire, by pouring ourselves, as it were, along the veins through which the domain of vision has been integrated into the field of desire.

It is not for nothing that it was at the very period when the Cartesian meditation inaugurated in all its purity the function of the subject that the dimension of optics that I shall distinguish here by calling 'geometral' or 'flat' (as opposed to perspective) optics was developed.

I shall illustrate for you, by one object among others, what seems to me exemplary in a function that so curiously attracted so much reflection at the time.

One reference, for those who would like to carry further what I tried to convey to you today, isbaltrusaitis'book, Anamorphoses.

In my seminar, I have made great use of the function of anamorphosis, in so far as it is an exemplary structure. What does a simple, non-cylindrical anamorphosis consist of? Suppose there is a portrait on this flat piece of paper that I am holding. By chance, you see the blackboard, in an oblique position in relation to the piece of paper. Suppose that, by means of a series of ideal threads or lines, I reproduce on the oblique surface each point of the image drawn on my sheet of paper. You can easily imagine what the result would be-you would obtain a figure enlarged and distorted according to the lines of what may be called a perspective. One supposes that -if I take away that which has helped in the construction, namely, the image placed in my own visual field-the impression I will retain, while remaining in that place, will be more or less the same. At least, I will recognize the general outlines of the image-at best, I will have an identical impression.

I will now pass around something that dates from a hundred
years earlier, from I533, a reproduction of a painting that, I think, you all know-Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors. It will serve to refresh the memories of those who know the picture well. Those who do not should examine it attentively. I shall come back to it shortly.

Vision is ordered according to a mode that may generally be called the function of images. This function is defined by a point-by-point correspondence of two unities in space. Whatever optical intermediaries may be used to establish their relation, whether their image is virtual, or real, the point-bypoint correspondence is essential. That which is of the mode of the image in the field of vision is therefore reducible to the simple schema that enables us to establish anamorphosis, that is to say, to the relation of an image, in so far as it is linked to a surface, with a certain point that we shall call the 'geometral' point. Anything that is determined by this method, in which the straight line plays its role of being the path of light, can be called an image.

Art is mingled with science here. Leonardo da Vinci is both a scientist, on account of his dioptric constructions, and an artist. Vitruvius's treatise on architecture is not far away. It is in Vignola and in Alberti that we find the progressive interrogation of the geometral laws of perspective, and it is around research on perspective that is centred a privileged interest for the domain of vision-whose relation with the institution of the Cartesian subject, which is itself a sort of geometral point, a point of perspective, we cannot fail to see. And, around the geometral perspective, the picture-this is a very important function to which we shall return-is organized in a way that is quite new in the history of painting.

I should now like to refer you to Diderot. The Lettre sur les aveugles a l'usage de ceux qui voient (Letter on the Blind for the use of those who see) will show you that this construction allows that which concerns vision to escape totally. For the geometral space of vision -even if we include those imaginary parts in the virtual space of the mirror, of which, as you know, I have spoken at length -is perfectly reconstructible, imaginable, by a blind man.

What is at issue in geometral perspective is simply the mappiiig of space, not sight. The blind man may perfectly well conceive that the field of space that he knows, and which he knows as real, may be perceived at a distance, and as a simultaneous act. For him, it is a question of apprehending a temporal function, instantancity. In Descartes, dioptrics, the action of the eyes, is represented as the conjugated action of two sticks. The geometral dimension of vision does not exhaust, therefore, far from it, what tile field of vision as such offers us as the original subjectifying relation.

This is why it is so important to acknowledge the inverted use of perspective in the structure of anamorphosis.

It was Diirer himself who invented the apparatus to establish perspective. Dijrer's 'lucinda' is comparable to what, a little while ago, I placed between that blackboard and myself, namely, a certain image, or more exactly a canvas, a treliss that will be traversed by straight lines-which are not necessari 'ly rays, but also threads-which will link each point that I have to see in the world to a point at which the canvas will, by this line, be traversed.

It was to establish a correct perspective image, therefore, that the lucinda was introduced. If I reverse its use, I will have the pleasure of obtaining not the restoration of the world that lies at the end, but the distortion, on another surface, of the image that I would have obtained on the first, and I will dwell, as on some delicious game, on this method that makes anything appear at wi 'II in a particular stretching.

I would ask you to believe that such an enchantment took place in its time. Baltrusaitis' book will tell you of the furious polemics that these practices gave rise to, and which culminated in works of considerable length. The convent of the Minims, now destroyed, which once stood near the rue des Tournelles, carried on the very long wall of one of its galleries and represcnting as if by chance St John at Patmos a picture that had to be looked at through a hole, so that its distorting value could be appreciated to its full extent.

Distortion may lend itself-this was not the case for this particular fresco-to all the paranoiac ambiguities, and every possi 'ble use has been made of it, from Arcimboldi to Salvador Dali. I will go so far as to say that this fascination complements what geometral researches into perspective allow to escape from vision.

How is it that nobody has ever thought of connecting this with . . . the effect of an erection? Imagine a tattoo traced on the sexual organ ad hoc in the state of repose and assuming its, if I may say so, developed form in another state.

How can we not see here, immanent in the geometral dimensions partial dimension in the field of the gaze, a dimension that has nothing to do with vision as such-something symbolic of the function of the lack, of the appearance of the phallic ghost?

Now, in The Ambassadors- I hope everyone has had time now to look at the reproduction-what do you see? What is this strange, suspended, oblique object in the foreground in front of these two figures?

The two figures are frozen, stiffened in their showy adornments. Between them is a series of objects that represent in the painting of the period the symbols of vanitas. At the same period, Cornelius Agrippa wrote his De Vanitate scientiarum, aimed as much at the arts as the sciences, and these objects are all symbolic of the sciences and arts as they were grouped at the time in the trivium and quadrivium. What, then, before this display of the domain of appearance in all its most fascinating forms, is this object, which from some angles appears to be flying through the air, at others to be tilted? You cannot knowfor you turn away, thus escaping the fascination of the picture.

Begin by walking out of the room in which no doubt it has long held your attention. It is then that, turning round as you leave-as the author of the Anamorphoses describes it-you apprehend in this form ... What? A skull.

This is not how it is presented at first- that figure, which the author compares to a cuttlebone and which for me suggests rather that loaf composed of two books which Dali was once pleased to place on the head of an old woman, chosen deliberately for her wretched, filthy appearance and, indeed, because she seems to be unaware of the fact, or, again, Dali's soft watches, whose signification is obviously less phallic than that of the object depicted in a flying position in the foreground of this picture.

All this shows that at the very heart of the period in which the subject emerged and geometral optics was an object of research, Holbein makes visible for us here something that is simply the subject as annihilated-annihilated in the form
that is, strictly speaking, the imaged embodiment of the minus-phi [(-O)] of castration, which for us, centres the whole organization of the desires through the framework of the fundamental drives.

But it is further still that we must seek the function of vision. e shall then see emerging on the basis of vision, not the phallic symbol, the anamorphic ghost, but the gaze as such, in its pulsatile, dazzling and spread out function, as it is in this picture.

This picture is simply what any picture is, a trap for the gaze. In any picture, it is precisely in seeking the gaze in each of its points that you will see it disappear. I shall try to develop this further next time.


F. W A H L : You have explained that the original apprehension of the gaze in the gaze of others, as described by Sartre, was not the fundamental experience of the gaze. I would like you to explain in greater detail whatyou have already sketchedfor us, the apprehension of the gaze in the direction of desire.

L A C A N : If one does not stress the dialectic of desire one does not understand why the gaze of others should.disorganize the field of perception. It is because the subject in question is not that of the reflexive consciousness, but that of desire. One thinks it is a question of the geometral eye-point, whereas it is a question of a quite different eye-that which flies in the foreground of The Ambassadors.

WAHL: But I don't understand how others will reappear in your discourse ...

L A C A N Look, the main thing is that I don't come a cropper!

W A H LI would also like to say that, when you speak of the subject and of the real, one is tempted, onfirst hearing, to consider the terms in themselves. But gradually one realizes that the are to be understood in their relation to one another, and that they have a topological definition -subject and real are to be situated on either side of the split, in the resi . stance Of the phantasy. The real is, in a way, an experience of resistance.
LACAN: My discourse proceeds, in the following way: each term is sustained only in its topological relation with the others, and the subject of the cogito is treated in exactly the same way.

W A H L: Is topology for you a method of discovery or of exposition ?

LACAN: It is the mapping of the topology proper to our experience as analysts, which may later be taken in a metaphysical perspective. I think Merleau-Ponty was moving in this direction-see the second part of the book, his reference to the Wof Man and to the finger of a glove.

P. K A U F M A N N : you have provided us with a typical structure of the gaze, but you have said nothing of the dilation of light.

L A C A N : I said that the gaze was not the eye, except in that flying form in which Holbein has the cheek to show me my own soft watch ... Next time, I will talk about embodied light.

26 February 1964