The Veiling of Homoerotic Desire in Roland Barthes' S/Z

Carrie Watterson

The duality of the relation between the mother and child must be broken. . . . In Lacan's account, the phallus stands for that moment of rupture. It refers mother and child to the dimension of the symbolic which is figured by the father's place. The mother is taken to desire the phallus not because she contains it (Klein), but precisely because she does not. The phallus therefore belongs somewhere else; it breaks down the two-term relation and initiates the order of exchange. For Lacan, it takes on this value as a function of the androcentric nature of the symbolic order . . . . But its status itself is false, and must be recognised by the child as such. Castration means first of all this - that the child's desire for the mother does not refer to her but beyond her, to an object, the phallus, whose status is first imaginary (the object presumed to satisfy her desire) and then symbolic (recognition that desire cannot be satisfied). (Rose, 62)
Desire must be understood to exist only as lack; it is not a need which can be articulated and fulfilled; it is the perpetually futile refusal of recognized impossibility. "'Identity' and 'wholeness' remain precisely at the level of fantasy." (Rose, 55) Perfect unity and unmediated presence also lie at the level of fantasy. "The father is a function and refers to a law, the place outside the imaginary dyad and against which it breaks." (63) Castration represents the moment of the subject's separation and individuation; the moment of the subject's assumption of language and law as the symbolic order by which he will define himself in relation to the world outside of himself. "Symbolization starts, therefore, when the child gets its first sense that something could be missing; words stand for objects, because they only have to be spoken at the moment when the first object is lost." (54) Furthermore, it is a mistake to configure castration as an act perpetrated upon an innocent and passive subject by an outside aggressor:
For if psychic life has its own violence; if there is an aggression in the very movement of the drives; if sexual difference, because of the forcing it requires, leaves the subject divided against the sexual other as well as herself or himself. . . there can be no analysis for women [nor, I would suggest, for men] which sees violence solely as accident, imposition or external event. Only a rigid dualism pits fantasy against the real; only an attempt to reduce the difference between them by making one a pure reflection of the other has, finally, set them so totally apart. (16)
Castration is not a horrific aberration, but a normative element of human socialization, inherent within the subject because of the elusiveness of the unconscious to definition. Its power over the subject lies in the cost of entry into civilization. The infantile security of imagined wholeness must be sacrificed in order to interact with the world outside of the self. Because of the distance between eidos and logos, signifier and signified, law, in the form of language or sexual identity can never be assumed with stability by the subject. The stability of identity also lies at the level of fantasy, and it is the workings of the unconscious that repeatedly reveal that illusion.

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