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  • The Virtue of Blushing: Assimilating Anxiety into Shame in Haneke’s Caché
  • Frances L. Restuccia (bio)

Das Ding is totally indefinable and is as blurry as it is tantalizing, terrifying, and like a stalker. It is for this reason that in phenomenology, anxiety is presented without a defined object. The subject says he or she is anxious without knowing from what, or who, or why he or she is suffering.

—Roberto Harari (2001)

Anxiety is perhaps the most puzzling (as well as the most promising) affect in Lacanian theory. Is it triggered by fear of loss or by a loss of loss? In her book On Anxiety, Renata Salecl asserts that “Lacan agreed with Freud that anxiety is the subject’s response to the threat of castration” (2004, 30). In chapter 4 of On Anxiety, titled “Love Anxieties,” she invokes a commonplace notion of anxiety in reminding us that “when we have found a partner and established a love relationship, we are then often anxious that we may lose their love” (72). Yet Salecl also claims that “anxiety is not incited by the lack of the object but rather by the lack of the lack” (51). In other words, anxiety has been taken to be a response to loss as well as to, what would appear to be its opposite, the lack of loss or lack of lack.

In his Anxiety seminar, Seminar X, Lacan clarifies that “anxiety is not the signal of a lack but of something that you must manage to conceive of…as being the absence of this support of the lack” (5 Dec. 1962). It is not, in other words, the anticipation of a loss, or the loss itself, of an object that is anxiety-producing (as at least a simple understanding of castration anxiety in Freud might suggest) but the lack of lack or lack of desire. Likewise, it is not the absence of the mother that induces anxiety in the child but her potentially horrifying suffocating presence. Extending this explanation, by putting it in terms of representation, Charles Shepherdson writes (in his introduction to Roberto Harari’s Lacan’s Seminar on “Anxiety”) that it is precisely the “failure to register…lack—its ‘foreclosure’ or nonemergence—that gives rise to the experience of anxiety.” Anxiety surfaces when “the order of symbolization (substitution and displacement) is at risk of disappearing” (Shepherdson 2001, xxxii). [End Page 155]

Although from a (rudimentary) Freudian viewpoint, fear of castration causes anxiety, so that what might be lost is unambiguous, in Lacanian theory whether or not anxiety even has an object of loss is a tricky issue. In Being and Time (to shift to philosophy momentarily), Heidegger states, “[t]hat in the face of which one has anxiety is not an entity within-the-world” (1962, 231); in harmony with Heidegger’s position that anxiety has no visible cause, although his view may initially seem antithetical, Lacan phrases the idea very deliberately this way: anxiety is “not without an object.” He elaborates in The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (Seminar XVII):

What I insist upon when I address the affects is the affect that is different from all the others, that of anxiety, in that it’s said to have no object. Look at everything that has ever been written about anxiety, it’s always this that is insisted upon—fear has a reference to an object, whereas anxiety is said to have no object. I say on the contrary that anxiety is not without an object.

(2007, 147)

Then, in a subsequent critical move, clearly aligning his conception of anxiety with Heidegger’s (that anxiety is not triggered by an entity within-the-world), Lacan after all fills in the blank of his litotes with “surplus jouissance”—which is “not nameable, even if it’s approximately nameable, translatable” (147). That is, Lacan’s “object” of anxiety turns out to be an “object” without a name, an overwhelming excess, a surplus—of jouissance, consonant with das Ding.1

Keeping the focus on surplus jouissance, as a way of explicating the concept of anxiety as lack of lack, Harari points out that, with anxiety, “Something that should not have been exposed, as something...


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