How to read Lacan: Zizek on Lacan – Part 4. Troubles with the Real: Lacan as a Viewer of Alien. (pt One)
This is a follow on post from a previous one that you can read here.
This chapter in the book is large, so I have divided it up into two separate posts.
It is important to note, that this is not my own work. This is merely a condensing and simplifying of How to Read Lacan by Slavoj Zizek (Author), Simon Critchley (Series Editor) that can be purchased here.
Whenever the membranes of the egg in which the foetus emerges on its way to becoming a new-born are broken, imagine for a moment that something flies off, and that one can do it with an egg as easily as with a man, namely the hommelette, or the lamella.
The lamella is something extra flat, which moves like the amoeba. it is just a little more complicated. but it goes everywhere. And as it is something – I will tell you shortly why – that is related to what the sexed being loses in sexuality, it is, like the amoeba in relation to sexed beings , immortal – because it survives any division, and scissiparous intervention. And it can turn around.
Well! This is not very reassuring. But suppose it comes and envelopes your face while you are quietly asleep…
I can’t see how we could not join battle with a being capable of these properties. But it would not be a very convenient battle. This lamella, this organ, whose characteristic is not to exist, but which is nevertheless an organ – I can give you more details as to its zoological place – is the libido.
It is the libido, qua pure life instinct, that is to say, immortal life, irrepressible life, life that has need of no organ, simplified, indestructible life. it is precisely what is subtracted from the living being by virtue of the fact that it is subject to the cycle of sexed reproduction. And it is of this that all the forms of the objet a that can be enumerated are the representatives, the equivalents. (Ecrits)
Every word is equally important here in the description of the mythical creature Lacan calls the ‘lamella’ which can literally be described as ‘manlet’ – a condensation of ‘man’ and ‘omlet’.
Lacan sees this lamella as a weird disembodied organ floating around the body, a bit like the smile on the cat in Alice in Wonderland. The lamella is an entity of pure surface, without the density of a substance, an infinitely plastic object that can incessantly change its form, and even transpose itself from one medium to another: imagine a ‘something’ that is first heard as a shrill sound, and then pops up as a monstrously distorted body: A lamella is indivisible, indestructible, and immortal. Like the undead from a horror film. As Lacan would say, the lamella does not exist, it insists.
This blind indestructible insistence of the libido is what Freud called the ‘death drive’ which paradoxically means the name for its very opposite. The drive for an uncanny excess of life. This is an ‘undead’ urge that exists way beyond the biological cycle of life and death, generation and corruption. Freud talks about this libido, this death drive, as ‘the compulsion to repeat’ a painful past experience that seems to outgrow the organism that experienced it and exist even beyond the organism’s death. Ziezek gives us the example of the fairy tale “The Red Shoes” as a classic example of the relationship between this drive and the partial object. The red shoes that cause the girl to dance and dance represent her unconditional drive which persists beyond all human limitation. The only way the girl can get rid of the exhausting dancing in the end is to cut off her legs.
Ziezek gives us the example of Ridley Scott’s Alien as the perfect image of Lacan’s lamella. All the things Lacan talks about are there. The monster appears indestructible, if you cut it into pieces it multiplies. it is extra flat that will suddenly fly up into your face. it can morph itself into different shapes. It is pure evil with a mechanistic insistence.
Despite all this graphic imagery, the lamella is firmly in the realm of the imaginary, although it does exist as an image that stretches the imagination to the very edges of the representable. The lamella inhabits the intersection between the imaginary and the real. it stands for the real when it is imagined at its most terrible. It’s the primordial abyss that swallows everything.
The Real of the lamella is to be opposed to the scientific mode of the Real.
This is a very complex idea. It is more than ‘we have trouble facing reality’. Ziezek, to help us understand this, asks us what is it that separates us humans from the ‘real Real’ targeted by science, what makes it inaccessible to us? it is not the imaginary (our illusions or misconceptions) distorting what we perceive, nor is it the ‘wall of language’ through which we interpret the world. But there is another Real. This real for Lacan is the very real that is inscribed in the very core of human sexuality. There is no sexual relationship. Human sexuality is marked by an irreducible failure. Sexual difference (as we saw in earlier posts) is the antagonism of the two sexual positions between which there is no common denominator. Enjoyment can only be gained against a backdrop of fundamental loss. The lamella represents the phantasmic entity that gives body to the thing that is lost in the ‘reality’ of sexual difference. Freud calls this loss castration, which means we can call the lamella a kind of obverse of castration. The non-castrated remainder or partial object cut off from the body.
Confused? I was at this point. But it does get clearer.
I’ll leave this for you to mull over, and I will post part two tomorrow. This way we can get a good grip on what Ziezek is trying to tell us.