Lacan, Hegel, Women and Flowers

March 30, 2008

From page 77 to page 81 of The Other Side… Lacan makes several remarks about women and men, comparing them to animals and plants. Men are associated with monkeys in that they both pull their peters (78 ) and Women are associated with plants – or more specifically, flowers (78). Lacan remarks that “it is true that we can well imagine the lily in the fields as a body given entirely over to jouissance…” (77). The mother, in effect, is the full body of jouissance.

The first thing that came to mind when I read this was a passage from Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:

Women can, of course, be educated, but their minds are not adapted to the higher sciences, philosophy, or certain of the arts. Women may have happy inspirations, taste, elegance, but they have not the ideal. The difference between man and woman is the same as between animal and plant. The animal corresponds more closely to the character of the man, the plant to that of the woman. In woman there is a more peaceful unfolding of nature, a process, whose principle is the less clearly determined unity of feeling. If woman were to control the government, the state would be in danger, for they do not act according to the dictates of universality, but are in influenced by accidental inclinations and opinions. The education of woman goes on one only knows how, in the atmosphere of picture thinking, as it were, more through life than through the acquisition of knowledge. Man attains his position only through stress of thought and much specialized effort.

So, women come to knowledge through the imaginary, while men come to knowledge through work.


1) It’s necessary to point out that when people attack this section of The Philosophy of Right they usually fail to mention that these comments are not part of Hegel’s POR manuscript, nor are they taken from notes written in Hegel’s hand, but are instead remarks made by a couple of Hegel’s students! (see section 166 of the Cambridge edition of POR). The prof who taught me this book was of the opinion that these added remarks (which are all over the book) are what tend to make people think it’s a work of right-wing political philosophy. It was his opinion that they should be ignored. Maybe he’s right – I don’t know Hegel well enough to say.

It is of course Zizek’s position that Hegel can easily be made to ‘think left’, and uses Hegel’s thought as one of the cornerstones of his own. In “The Ongoing ‘Soft Revolution’” he argues that while Hegel was both a state-philosopher and a philosopher of the state, his ideas were radicalized by many and were seen as so radical that they needed to be purged because of their influence (“Ongoing…”, 304, note 19). The gist is that an ‘insider’ like Hegel can be easily ‘outed’ or radicalized, and even though Spinoza, Nietzsche and D&G are considered ‘outsiders’ their thought has been easily assimilated by the ‘university discourse.’ This is the same point Lacan makes regarding some psychologist named Politizer who also tried to escape it: “…in seeking to escape from the university discourse one implacably reenters it” (Other Side…, 64).

That was a bit of an aside…

2) Lacan’s comments on this flower business centre around a ‘social connivance’: “…in attaching the child to the mother social connivance makes her the privileged site of prohibitions” (79). This falls in the middle of one of Lacan’s discussions of Marx, wherein he argues against Hegel’s views: “…no work has ever produced knowledge” (79) (which it seems to me is what Hegel’s students are saying above). That is, Marx prolematized the schema of the master-slave dialectic – and what Lacan takes from this is that the state is just a replacement for the master. He then goes on about a wealthy people and being a master… stuff I really don’t get…

What I took from all this is that ‘women as flower’ is for Lacan the result of political organization and not nature, and what he’s starting to do in this section is show, as he himself says, “…the place of psychoanalysis in politics” (78). This is more obvious in relation to men and animals: while both have autoerotic tendencies, what differentiates man is his relation to discourse.

From what I can gather, Lacan thinks that all discourses are related to mastery – all but that of the analyst, of course (69). And that’s what makes Psychoanalysis ‘subversive’ (70). And I imagine this is also what he means by “the revolutionary properties of analysis” (55). So, in saying that the mother is a privileged site of prohibition is not to naturalize, but the beginning of a mapping of capitalist exploitation…one he says he has no time to complete, but that someone should take up…




2 Responses to “Lacan, Hegel, Women and Flowers”

  1. dystopier said

    That’s interesting, and I’d like to hear more of your take on this. I’ll have to go back to Philosophy of Right because I haven’t read it in a couple of years.

    In another direction…
    This section, where he talks about work and knowledge, and then Marx (pp. 79-81), actually reminded me of the section in For They Know Not… (I think it’s there) regarding ‘the emperor has no clothes’. This stuff is referred to earlier in XVII, when he talks about master/slave.
    I’m interested in the idea of slave as possessor of knowledge and how his/her work produces truth (79). In relation to the Master’s discourse, this truth is that the Master is the barred subject.
    I’m also interested in what ‘subtracts the slave’s knowledge from him’ (80), and I’m wondering if this is what Lacan means when he says that surplus jouissance, in consumer society, is replaced by imitation surplus jouissance (81). Would it make sense to suggest that fantasy, as the screen between desire and drive, is what produces ‘le bonheur’/happiness (73), the ‘cache’ (78) of the Master’s discourse. Is this one way of reading the formula for fantasy below the S1 – S2?

  2. battleofthegiants said

    It’s recently been pointed out to me that perhaps Hegel says something about Women and flowers in one of his Logic books…

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