Review by Eugenia Konoreva
1 July 2019

Alexander Smulyanskiy, Paternal Metaphor and Desire of the Analyst. Sexuation and Its Transformation in Analysis.
Higher school of economics publishing house, Moscow: 2019.

What could be viewed as a genuinely Freudian analytical project is a method of barring a demand coming from the hysteric and establishing the instance of desire on its way. However, after the war development witnessed a replacement of this strategy by emphasizing other aspects, such as the idea of educating, nurturing the analyst. Transformation of analytical discourse during this period leads to the splitting of psychoanalysis, which as a result finds itself in a position of double resistance. Both, the function of desire as the immutable constant of analytical practice and its derivation from Freudian non-analytical desire, are being suppressed. Smulyanskiy observes, that psychoanalysis today is marked by the presence of anxiety, invoked by the fact that Freudian initial desire was of pre-analytical character. Thus, he acknowledges, that even Lacanian intervention with its emphasis on the primacy of the function of desire, failed to prevent a total trivialization of this most subversive element. This leads to a general misinterpretation of the reasons behind analyst activity and the nature of neurosis per se.

A collision of analytic and university discourse in the years, following the second world war, led to the instrumentalization of psychoanalytic method. What is considered analyst’s desire in its prevalent use today is the analyst’s pure desire to analyze, which entails a notoriously respectful distance from the patient and rigorous restraint. This precisely assigns analyst’s desire its deficient, utilitarian role. Reducing analysts’ desire to one among other instruments of analytic technique means isolating it from the moment of the initial impulse of Freudian desire. Smulyanskiy’s speculation discovers, that the desire of the analyst is a derivate of Freud’s non-analytical desire. He insists, that having turned off the original Freudian coordinates, the postwar analytic loses direct contact with the object of Freud’s libidinal investment. Whereas the invention of analysis is a product of Freud’s original and immediately suppressed desire to explore and point in the direction of the existence of desire of a certain type. Thus, today we are facing a situation, where Freud’s desire as a logical impasse has not been given any substantial interpretation.

Smulyanskiy offers an unexpected twist to a well-worn story of Freud’s cases of hysteria analysis. Dora’s case has been a milestone in psychoanalytical and critical studies; a source of ambivalent interpretations raging from sexist accusations to the liberation of female homosexual desire. Smulyanskiy spices this long-term obsession with Dora’s case with another kink. What he suggests is not only a more elaborate socio-cultural grounding, but more importantly an interpretation of Freud’s initial desire and its intimate connection with Dora’s desire to know.

What Dora so passionately wanted ‘to know’ was not merely hidden secrets of her own sexuality, her being as a woman, but, more importantly, her wish was addressed to the mystery of analysis per se. Smulyanskiy interprets a notorious Freudian failure in Dora’s case as a consequence of his ignorance of the fact, that Dora was as much puzzled by Freud’s wish to know, as Freud himself was by Dora’s own wish. 

If he did fail in something, it was his blindness in regards to Dora’s meta-analytical desire to understand what Freud wanted apart from analysis. Not only did she succeed in identifying a presence of a non-analytical element in his initial desire, but, Smulyanskiy contests, she had her own alternative terminological apparatus. Thus she managed to deal with the question of desire in a proto-analytical way. According to Smulyanskiy, Freud was not altogether oblivious to this fact, but he was not able to handle it in a more delicate manner, since he repressed his non-analytical desire and, by and large, the emergence of psychoanalysis could be viewed as an acting out in regards to this initial impulse. Insofar as it is possible to uncover the existence of desire only on the territory of one’s own desire, psychoanalysis is born out of the barrier in its founder’s desire that would remain alienated from his project. Saying this Smulyanskiy suggests, that Dora basically anticipated analytic enterprise as the one dealing with the question of desire.

For decades a hysteric has been an object of medical discourse, where doctors, obviously men, struggled to guide her in a way of restoring her presumably lost jouissance. While the genius of Freud was to discover that in fact she has never renounced her jouissance. Freud’s desire was an intense reaction to this underlying hysteric’s position; he was the first to provide the hysteric with a platform where her otherwise neglected speech could have been heard. In doing so, he identified that there is something hidden behind that speech, addressed to the genital man; thus Freud’s desire was to discover the roots of this speech, to disclose that original jouissance. According to Smulyanskiy, hysteric’s desire to speak is Freud’s object a. In other words, the founder of psychoanalysis was astonished by hysteric’s persistence in her attempt to block the demand stemming from the father’s metaphor. Under the law of the father metaphor she is required to provide a self-differentiation on a sexual basis, to form her own way of desiring, but now after Freud we know that she defies this demand.

Smulyansky contends, that the hysteric’s position in relation to the principle imposed by the father metaphor, is far more radical than the other two – those of obsessional neurotic and a pervert. When the former two find themselves serving each in his own way the functioning of the law, a hysteric locates herself outside of incest limitations altogether. She does not manipulate with the affects or the prospects of the law, but intervenes in the very fundamental of desire. Which is in principle what analysis does. Hers is an inexorable desire to demonstrate to the genital subject that there is some other jouissance available for him. This being said, Smulyanskiy encourages us to believe that the hysteric’s project is synonymous with the aims of psychoanalysis per se.

Moving from this premise we approach another central theme of the book – the question of sexuation. Sexuation procedure can no longer be regarded as something explicitly related to the question of sex or genital jouissance. Smulyansky claims quite the opposite, that sex is merely one episode in a more diversified process of sexuation. Moreover, the key to understanding “sexuation” in its various forms is father metaphor – a threshold of desire. What is traditionally regarded as a strong affinity between the sexual and sexuation procedure is conditioned by the fact that sexuation is marked by the signifier. Yet the author obliges us to consider that sex is not a unique form of sexuation. Sexuation at its purest is one of the forms of desire distribution, whereas sexual difference is the closest embodiment of the dissymmetry of desire. That is why there is only One sex; the subject is a speaking being marked as ‘sexed’ in one’s desire. Smulyanskiy is concerned in disclosing other forms of sexuation, unrelated to genital order – he introduces sexuation by reading and analytic sexuation. Hereby attesting to the Lacanian desexualization of libido, which marks desire as entirely subordinated to language, but not to sex. 

Furthermore, reintroducing the priority of father metaphor and dissymmetry in sexuation procedure Smulyanskiy suggests that analysis basically functions on the same principle as father metaphor and thus enables a re-actualization of sexuation procedure. In other words, analysis reinvents incomplete sexuation by eliminating the demand and dealing with desire.

The author sketches new reading of sexuation procedures and a rehabilitation of father metaphor, which was generally misinterpreted in post-colonial cultural studies as a unique source of heteronormative oppression. The function of father metaphor is to formulate and to certify the presence of desire per se by proposing different ways of reacting to the existence of desire of the other. Meanwhile gender orientated studies were unable to distinguish and sustain dialectical relations between two functions – father function and desire, which resulted in a reductionist vision and further theoretical omissions. Sexuation is a manner of solving the problem of sex difference taken not as an isolated phenomenon, but in its strict relation to the function of desire. This entails that the operation of interruption, introduced by father metaphor, compels the subject to demonstrate her position in relation to jouissance, in other words exposes how she desires. Moving from this, the alleged dissymmetry in sexuation is first of all caused by the mode of desire that can never be symmetrical by definition, since desire per se is a way of subject’s self-identification when confronted with the demonstration of the desire of the other. Father metaphor articulates a demand to produce and to manifest a unique way of desiring, or in other words to occupy a certain position in relation to the function of sexuated desire.

It assumes that father metaphor confronts the subject with dissymmetry of desire, which proceeds further in sexuation even after the closure of the so-called sexual development. Smulyanskiy insists, that this principle incompleteness of sexuation is a fundamental condition of psychoanalytical enterprise. Consequently, analysis announces sexuation as open-ended, still unaccomplished and thus demonstrates a possibility for a reintegration of father metaphor on new grounds. The author demonstrates, that sexuation procedure can be relaunched, and thus a question concerning desire can get back into circulation. Moreover, sexuation procedure, suspended of its limitation by sex as was illustrated by Freud, attests that sex cannot be the foreground form of desire administration. It is one among other forms of subject’s sexuation, all however being dispatched under the surveillance of the father metaphor, which remains a sole anchoring point for any possible change. Insofar as it is rooted in the principle of father metaphor, psychoanalysis conveys a restart of sexuation.

The Freudian notion of diphasic sexuation – infantile sexuation of partial objects and its revival after the latent period in the form of genital sexuation – is elaborated by Smulyanskiy with the addition of further modes of sexuation: the analytic one and the sexuation of reading. Analytic situation, being rooted and conditioned by the existence of the analyst desire, provides a possibility for the further unfolding of sexuation in a way that it opens up a space for the subject to question her mode of desiring and to launch a new search. This is to say that in analysis the subject is given a chance to find a new path for her desire, to revive the scene where her desire originates and to ask herself what else could be done here. Thus, analytic situation allows to break the sexuation off its hackneyed link with sexual difference.

In his reading of Alain Badiou, Smuyanskiy emphasizes that sexuation can no longer be theorized with a reference to anatomical difference and procreation. It is a truth procedure that is realized in the form of the emergence of specific knowledge. In other words, the function of desire is to provide a subject with certain knowledge regarding the questions raised by gender difference: Who are you in your desire? What is the sex of your judgement, your thought? What is at stake here is not just a question of anatomical difference, social construction or procreation, but the very mode of thinking, which is sexuated in a uniquely human/subjectivized manner.

Moving from this, Smulyanskiy makes a provocative step suggesting that reading could also be regarded as a mode of sexuation. This is not a surprise for his followers, who could trace the deployment of this assumption throughout “Lacan-likbez” seminars and two previous books. This theme should be read closely together with Smulyanskiy’s emphasis on the fundamental importance of publicity and its effects; a demand to produce public speech and the inevitable anxiety which results from it.

The author observes, that a search for recognition, which haunts every modern subject, has not been given serious critical groundings and was in some ways naturalized by the accent on symbolic justification and a need to obtain one’s own place in life, authorized by the symbolic law. Smulyanskiy insists on differentiating a search for recognition and a being that is marked by public fame. More precisely, the subject does not merely seek for some indeterminate recognition; her desire is to achieve authorized popularity in a celebrity manner where the exact field of activity is not anyhow decisive. This discussion cannot be limited by the assumption of the existence of some initial passions, as argued by Judith Butler, since the question of recognition is first and foremost associated with anxiety. Whereas Smulyanskiy locates the source of this anxiety in the function of desire per se, meaning that a subject is puzzled when she notices herself demonstrating the effects of desire. In this sense it is not the contents that is problematic, but the form.

Smulyanskiy’s second book – Obsessive’s Desire: Obsessional Neurosis in Lacanian Theory – gives a detailed account on the perturbations in the post-Cartesian subject, who finds herself torn between two signifiers and dislocated from her vantage point. The enigmatic emergence of the modern subject, marked by typical neurotic anxiety, was created by the grammar of Cartesian enunciation. Smulyanskiy argues that Descartes’ intention to think a conscious subject had a counter effect: his saying managed to provoke anxiety that served as a founding material for the emergence of the unconscious and its subject as a subject of desire, arranged in a certain idiosyncratic way. It is crucial, that anxiety is not a product of external circumstances, but it originates in the enunciation, that is not only the founding one, but has as well turned into her self-assertion.

This assumes, that the awakening of anxiety as a result of emerged consciousness formed the basis for the formation of unconsciousness. Smulyanskiy underlines that consciousness can no longer be considered an ability, a psychic phenomenon, but it should rather be assigned a status of a certain position where the subject finds herself, when confronted with a certain form of knowledge. To put it simply, the subject gains her unconsciousness historically as a consequence of Cartesian statement. The signifier ‘I’ undergoes a splitting that leads to alienation typical of a modern subject. Not only is this ‘I’ dramatically undomesticated, it is an instrument, which the subject employs for her obsessive operation. Strictly speaking, having dropped the ‘I’ into the subject Descartes unleashed fundamental neurotization. As Smulyanskiy suggests, there is a double trouble with this signifier – it is not settled in a subject, but what is more important, a subject cannot get settled with it.1 In an attempt to deal with this anxiety, neurotic falls back on acting out, thus neurotic is someone who is set adrift to reproduce acting outs continuously.

Smulyanskiy’s next step in conceptualizing this interaction between the subject and the other is an assumption, that as soon as the subject, forced to strive for public recognition, achieves any plausible results, there inevitably emerges anxiety. However, the other who provoked anxiety is not affected by it. More precisely, anxiety is immediately readdressed to the subject – obsessive neurotic – who is a true witness and consumer of circulating anxiety.2 What marks neurotic is his incapability to deal with this renounced anxiety – in the face of confusion of the one who has already gained his acclaim, neurotic is completely helpless. He has to consume the anxiety that is a byproduct of any generated commodity – be it work of art or public speech – and it marks neurotic in a way that he is forced to serve it. Led by the intention to identify with the place of the loss of the other, neurotic occupies the position of the anxiety of the other, however he cannot hold this burden for long. In the outcome he has to recoil, abandon his position, which is often diagnosed in clinical therapy as exemplary neurotic symptoms – like agoraphobia, claustrophobia etc. After that, having disposed his anxiety, the other who achieved recognition, is nonetheless viewed by neurotic as someone whose position is shameful. Observing the battlefield where subjects indulge themselves in a fight for recognition evokes inner inconvenience3, shame, which establishes a firm connection with the instance of desire.

‘The function of shame in its full meaning, connected with anxiety, is realized when an obsessive subject discloses, that his actions do not deserve recognition in a symbolic field. Meanwhile he observes, that the other, who is always looming on the horizon, has gained his acclaim by the means that evoke unbearable anxiety’.4

According to Smulyanskiy, paradoxically the biggest shame is the one, the subject feels for her participation in the search for public recognition and her own engagement in the issues of popularity and fame. In other words, the most shameful is the desire to obtain that piece of fame that would allow to renounce anxiety.

To sum it up, sexuation by book cannot be considered without this involvement into the interplay of desire, shame and anxiety. In the 10th chapter of the book Smulyansky makes several propositions in support of his thesis. Firstly, he dismantles the enlightenment myth of education as a source of socio-political refinement. Education plays its major role in providing the subject with alternative jouissance. If the rigor demand of the real father is to renounce any sort of pleasure apart from the genital one, the subject insists and finally gains access to the non-genital supply of jouissance, one of which is represented by book. Secondly, following Lacanian thesis that a subject is capable of extracting jouissance from the signifier, Smulyansky adds that education offers a specific object a, which generates sexuation.5 He draws several clinical examples where educated subjects are discriminated on the basis of their non-genital sexuation; environment’s response confirms that an educated person is affected by at least partial loss of his genital sexuation, his sex is being constantly questioned. Yet this non-sexed desire is nonetheless sexuated, since it is involved in the work of circling around the partial object.6

In this sense book is an object a. It reveals an interplay of structural forces, involved in the formation of desire and anxiety, as discussed above. Smulyansky provides a detailed account of the relations between the author and the reader, whose structure is identical with the structure of any obsessive relations. A book, as a treasure box for a partial object, attracts the subject for what she secretly seeks to discover as a slightest reminder that could connect her with her object a. Choosing forbidden, dark topics, a subject invests herself in a quest for that ultimate knowledge that was hidden from her. Similarly, Dora’s analysis reveals that it is not a search for novelty, but a compulsive desire to reveal a repetition of already known shamefulness7, which fascinates her most.

From this standpoint a book cannot be reduced to a source of new, encyclopedic knowledge, nor it is a tool for communicating any sort of information. Rather it is an aggregation of a potential to reproduce in a mode of repetition a chance of meeting with one’s one limitation, a chance of finding something that would coincide with one’s object a. Whereas the reader is someone who is constantly searching for those initial signifiers that provoked infantile jouissance, and thus gains access to the text on a non-genital level of the drive. Smulyansky claims that subject’s enthusiastic engagement with the text cannot be viewed on a level of desire, but it corresponds precisely to the level of the drive. That passionate interest, invested in reading, should not be mistaken for the cause of reading, however what a reader is really trying to read out of the text has no direct connection neither with the meaning, nor with the form of the text as such. A situation, where a reader finds herself forced into some sort of relationship with the author, can throw some light on this question.

Apart from the standardized mandatory character of reading, a subject manages to produce an additional dimension of reading, when she extracts an author’s demand, whereas the desire of the author stays barred by the text. During this initial phase of involvement with reading procedure, a text is used as a means of discharge, as an answer to the demand of the other. First and foremost, the reader is a witness to the author’s manipulations with his loss, with his inability to keep silent, which finally induces overabundant use of language. It is precisely this author’s impotence, his eloquent failure that fascinates the reader in the first place. Smulyanskiy contends, that the author, who quite often addresses such grandeur questions as resistance, humanism, ethic values etc., betrays himself as someone who is deeply touched by the peripeteia in the body of the Other, however he is unable to handle it. This infirmity of the other, the author’s total helplessness in the face of superior power seduces the subject and forces her to produce different sorts of critic. It is crucial that this enunciation of judgment does not indicate some abstract notion of proper intellectual engagement, but a subject’s total subjection to the demand. Explicitly demonstrating his desire, the author is inevitably losing his dignity, since in the process of writing it is an aspect of female masquerade, not-all jouissance that he involuntarily reveals. In this sense, what fascinates the reading subject is this loss the author suffers – the loss of his genital status. It can be said that reading is organized as a hysteric response to the manipulations with the Real of jouissance that the writing subject is forced to undergo. Thus, it is possible to understand the relations between a writing and a reading subject as parallel to gender relations, based on the aspect of the real.

Having no connection with the second phase of sexuation by sex, reading sexuation nonetheless remains a type a sexuation that is indicated by its reliability on father metaphor and its function of joining sex and desire. In other words, reading intervenes into the desire of the subject and shapes her oscillation between knowledge and jouissance in such a manner, that it reveals an alternative for genitality. This hysterical phase of reading sexuation reaches its limits when the subject can no longer sustain in the position of questioning her relations with the manifested anxiety of the other and abandons fiction literature altogether.

Moving from this, Smulyansky isolates a moment, when libidinal tension, evoked by passionate reading of fiction, declines, and the subject turns her attention to specialized, narrow, professional literary sources. This enables her to proceed in genital sexuation, that is rooted in a search for a special type of knowledge, namely, what jouissance means in terms of gender? Genital sexuation forces a subject to answer the demand to provide some product, however this product cannot be reduced to a child or to some imaginary object, it is a much more radical product – a form of desire par excellence.

Suggesting that the function of literature is based on an interplay of jouissance and knowledge, Smulyansky also terms a special ‘neurotic phase’ of reading. It implies that the text is used as a means of discharge; its contents presented as a response to the demand of truth, coming from the Other.

Neurotic’s sexuation is shaped around his duty to demand that the other complies with the law of the father. Obsessional neurotic guards that the other desires in accordance with sexuation procedures marking the decease of the father. Smulyanskiy emphasizes, that the pedagogical passion, the ultimate loyalty of neurotic to that desire forces him to haunt the other in order to secure that he desires in accordance with the paternal behest. Delivering the demands stemming from the father metaphor to the other eventually grows into his primary mission. First and foremost, neurotic’s aim is to demonstrate and to instruct the other a capability to desire in accordance with the demand of the Ego-ideal, which expresses an insistent prescription in fastidiousness. This ‘pedagogy of desire’ knows only one obstacle – anxiety, that is evoked by the possibility to touch upon the desire of the other.

In order to force a successful other to manifest his obtained level of sexuation neurotic uses his Ego-Ideal. The author underlines, that neurotic’s demand, addressed to the other, to demonstrate his own unique way of desiring, is an attempt to advance the other in his desire strategies. His dream, as well as Dora’s dream, is to force the genital subject to waive his customary way of desiring. This correlates with analytic project, with a difference stemmed in the dimension of demand, however the borderline is a loose one and it has to be conceptualized in greater detail.

The author demonstrates, that analysis succeeds not because it allows the subject to reconcile and to work through his unconsciousness, but because there exists analyst’s desire. According to Lacan, interpretation is a derivate from the analyst’s desire, that is why it never fails; it is rooted in analyst’s anxiety. What analysis lacks is the understanding of the affect that forces analyst to produce interpretation. This designates analysant’s position as the position of the effect of analytical situation. It assumes that some creditable result can be achieved only when analysant’s actions are converted into the acting out regime – which does not fulfill desire, but attests its presence in a transformed way. Smulyanskiy claims, that the goal of analysis is to provide a scene for the demonstration of desire.

Analysis and relations within the analytic procedure can obtain their authentic meaning if we admit that analysant is someone who faces the limit of genital sexuation and is forced to acknowledge the alternative, which is being mediated by the analyst. Analyst’s anxiety, as a main instrument of analysis, forces analysant to assimilate this unnamable residue, since all other demands for jouissance in analysis have been implicitly rejected. Smulyanskiy insists, that Freudian initiative is aimed at leading the subject out of the limits of genital sexuation; analysis operates with the result of a certain way of entering the practice of desire. If analysant is someone who enters analysis for the reasons of facing an irresolvable conflict, emerged during the genital sexuation, then analysis is a tool of disengagement from the love experience in terms of previous sexuation.

Lacan insisted on a logical divergence of analyst desire from Freudian desire, which resulted in the emergence of psychoanalytical theory. Lacanian concept of sexuation and its radical incompleteness entails that administration of desire is never settled, which provides the subject an opportunity to proceed in analysis. The subject is forced to construct some relations with the father metaphor, in this way analysis is able to introduce new symbolical dimensions, confronting analysant with the other forms of father’s desire.

Analytic situation, according to Smulyanskiy, creates a certain obstacle that reveals the principle of father metaphor to analysant. This entails that the work of father metaphor cannot be reduced to the function of the law prohibiting jouissance, but rather it manifests knowledge about the function of desire per se. Thus the goal of analysis is to introduce some new, supplementary element into the desire procedure. It brings in a hidden, non-analytical element that operates as a working force of analytical effect. Finally, analysis can succeed in creating some effect in the psychic apparatus, which can manifest itself outside of analyst’s office in the form of acting out.  


[1] Alexander Smulyanskiy, seminar ‘Certainty and Faithfulness’, available, 2:37, published on Mar 29, 2018.

[2] Alexander Smulyanskiy, Obsessive’s Desire: Obsessional Neurosis in Lacanian Theory. ‘Aleteja’ publishing house, Saint Petersburg: 2016, p. 69.

[3] Ibid.,79.

[4] Ibid., 80.

[5] Alexander Smulyanskiy, Paternal Metaphor and Desire of the Analyst. Sexuation and Its Transformation in Analysis. Higher school of economics publishing house, Moscow: 2019, 227.

[6] Ibid., 228.

[7] Ibid., 231.