Since Freud, psychoanalysis has been the most empirical of all the discourses of the mind and of the treatment of psychic suffering, for psychoanalysis orients itself around the identification of what is most singular in the experience of each speaking being. While other discourses will bring ideals about the psyche or the cosmos, or will bring utopian faith in the ability of science to reduce the experience of the speaking being to quantitative parcels of information, psychoanalysis holds to the specificity of the experience of each one.

Throughout his work, Jacques Lacan struggled to articulate this fact drawn from his work as a psychoanalyst. In his tenth Seminar on l’Angoisse–anguish or panic–Lacan offered a very particular formulation of this in his concept of the object a. We might say many things about this object. That it is, for example, not the pretty objects that people strive towards in their relationships or other engagements in the world, but rather, perhaps, the less acceptable, less idealized, or maybe even disgusting objects that drive the whole machinery of a subject’s relation to the Other, to language and society. And we might, certainly, look upon the Freudian antecedents of the object a, in the partial drives–oral drive, anal drive, phallic drive–to which Lacan offered two additions, the scopic–or visual–drive and the invocatory drive, attached to speech.

But, more important than that, we think that we must focus on what Jacques-Alain Miller has identified in his reading of Seminar X. The object a is a remainder, a waste product we might say. When a subject is inscribed into the Other, and when a person enters into the social and cultural machinery of the world–above all through language–something fails, the process is not complete or perfect. There is a leftover, some aspect of that subject’s experience (if we could even use the word) that does not get caught up in the signifying machinery, some remainder, linked–above all–to the body. This particular remainder is perhaps what is most singular for any subject.

This is Lacan’s formulation, from Seminar X, for the object a. It is a leftover, a waste product, of the inscription of the Subject, the speaking being, into the field of the Other, of language, of society. And what is so important about this formulation–now over forty years old–is its absolute pertinence for today. In our era, today, when the demand to reduce the human experience to quantitative parcels of information to be organized and acted upon by various forms of biological and psychological therapeutics in an manner that can be further quantified and evaluated is so pervasive, psychoanalysis stands for not only the singularity of each subject, but also–following this path laid by Lacan–offers a discourse that can articulate the very logic of the resistance of the speaking being to any process of reduction, and can identify that irreducible remainder of any subject that is the object a of that subject through the practice of psychoanalysis itself, allowing the suffering subject the possibility of making do with that object differently.

Following Jacques-Alain Miller’s “Objects a in the Analytic Experience,” we note that the object a can be conceived of in many different registers. There are the partial drive objects noted above, the natural objects, those most closely tied to the body. But then, as well, we can identify cultural equivalents to those objects– also oral, anal, phallic, scopic, and invocatory. These objects are not the natural, bodily, objects as such, but are cultural products, often linked to the body–from all the varied forms of oral objects implicated in anorexia and bulimia and obesity but also the so-called addictions, to the anal objects associated with acquisition and accumulation of luxury items, to the manipulation of the phallic object of the pharmaceutical industry and pornography industry, to the great production of images and sounds in music and movies that have taken over as culture itself today. These cultural objects are so closely articulated with psychic suffering today.

Through the clinical work that we will examine in our third Study Days, we hope to explore how we can use this notion of the object a in clinical work today, paying special attention to how we might perceive this object in cases–where we might identify a variety of approaches: be it a singular object a, perhaps not so hidden, as we may see in the case of the psychotic, to the complex cases in which the object a is very difficult to identify, deeply embedded in complex psychic structure, but linked to different natural partial drive objects and cultural objects, such as can be found in cases of obsessional neurosis. But, in any case, and in each of the cases that we will present, we will explore and discuss the use the analysts make of this most important invention of Lacan’s, the object a.