You are here: Home / Concepts / Phallus

This project is funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) research grant and is supported by the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) and Kingston University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

AHRC logo

CRMEP logo

Le phallus

In Freudian psychoanalysis, the phallic stage is a particular stage of psychosexual development. In Lacanian psychoanalysis, the child’s acquisition of a symbolic phallus is held to be necessary for the child’s construction as a symbolic, sexually differentiated subject. The problematic of the phallus is treated both indirectly and directly in the Cahiers pour l’Analyse.

Among Freud’s most pioneering ideas is his theory that the sexual objects and aims of the human being are constructed in the course of infantile psychological development. Freud argues that there is nothing pre-destined or ‘natural’ about the child’s assumption of a heterosexual position in love relationships; its sexual preferences are instead ‘constructed’ in the course of traversing a series of phases or stages in psychosexual formation. The male child, for instance, arrives at the position of genital sexuality only after passing through a series of pre-genital (oral and anal) relations to objects. It is from the perspective that the human sexual drives are constructed that Freud approaches the problem of how the penis assumes its sexual value for the child and adolescent. In his 1908 ‘The Sexual Theories of Children’, Freud noted that ‘already in childhood the penis is the leading erotogenic zone and the chief auto-erotic object; and the boy’s estimate of its value is logically reflected in his inability to imagine a person like himself is without this essential constituent’ (SE 9: 215-16). Freud argues that, although the assumption of the penis as leading erotogenic zone is the product of a construction (like the acquisition of oral and anal drives), there is something distinctive about the function played by the penis, for both males and females. In ‘The Infantile Genital Organization’ (1923), Freud went on to clarify his position by distinguishing between the penis and the phallus, the latter identifying the symbolic function the penis plays for the child. Both the male and female child go through a ‘phallic phase’. After this stage, the child’s sexuality will be organised around the phallus, whether it has one or not. Initially, both the male and female child attribute a phallus to the mother. The girl’s lack of a penis is in turn initially interpreted as a castration. At the ‘stage of infantile genital organization’, Freud explains, ‘maleness exists, but not femaleness. The antithesis here is between having a male genital and being castrated’ (SE 19: 145). The position of male and female in sexual relationships is determined by this initial, asymmetrical relationship to the phallus.

In The Language of Psychoanalysis Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis note that ‘what really characterises the phallus and re-appears in all its figurative embodiments is its status as a detachable and transformable object’.1 Due to its origin as a kind of ‘part-object’, the phallus is able to take on further features characteristic of symbolic entities: it can ‘circulate, be given and received’. They contend that these features are present in Freud’s texts, but they acknowledge that this conception of the phallus is predominately elaborated in the work of Lacan.

Lacan reformulates the psychoanalytic theory of the phallus in the process of re-working Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex. Lacan gives a new presentation to the determinants of the child’s psychosexual development within the parental triad of child-mother-father. Initially, argues Lacan, the child attempts to be the love-object of the mother. In its initial ‘imaginary’ world, all the child wants is to be what the mother desires. Insofar as it is in competition with the father for the mother’s love, it can be said that the child wants to be the ‘phallus’ that satisfies the mother’s desire. However, the attempt to ‘be’ the imaginary phallus of the mother leads to a dialectical impasse. The child can only know what the mother desires by observing the mother’s preferences with regard to other children. So despite itself, the child becomes caught up in a network of symbolic determinations, which, while it remains untethered in the imaginary order, are beyond its understanding. By attempting to identify with features exhibited by other children that appear to please the mother, the child ends up entering a deceiving world of images characterised by rivalry and paranoia about the legitimacy of one’s own place. It is thus intrinsically impossible for it to assume a position that enables it to become the sole object of the mother’s desire. At this point, moreover, the father’s attempts to separate the mother and child are also experienced as not different in kind to the interventions of a rival in love. In his Family Complexes, Lacan had suggested that the original significance of castration at the imaginary level centres around ‘the terror inspired in a male by a male’.2 By attempting to ‘be’ the imaginary phallus of the mother, the child exposes itself to anxiety in its relation with others. To supersede the impasses of the imaginary order, a foundation must be sought outside that order. This happens when the child is forced to choose between aggression, paranoia or mental fragmentation on the one hand, and an act of symbolic identification on the other. The child must give up its dream of being the sole object of the mother’s desire (the imaginary phallus) and renounce imaginary identification for symbolic identification.

Lacan argues that the authority of the symbolic order for the subject is grounded on ‘the Name of the Father’. Since the name of any particular father cannot be deduced from the birth of a child, the patrilineal name functions as a ‘pure signifier’, and it is as such that it underwrites the child’s assumption of its own proper name. According to Lacan in the Seminar on Identification, the child that undergoes a ‘castration’ of the ‘imaginary phallus’ is split into a subject of demand on the one hand, and an unconscious subject of desire on the other. With the assumption of a name, and its ensuing identification as a subject, the child is able to perform another act ‘of an identificatory nature’: identification with the phallus, as the position of a ‘subject of desire’.3 ‘The subject demands […] and the phallus desires’. The ‘phallus’ is thus initially the symbolic function that permits the subject to reactivate desire after it has risked losing it in the dialectic of the imaginary.

One can occupy a ‘male’ position in relation to the phallus (having the phallus), or one can occupy a ‘feminine’ position by attempting to ‘be’ the phallus, in the minimal sense of ‘being an object of desire for the Other’. Lacan insists that the ‘male’ and ‘female’ relations to the phallus can be adopted by either biological sex, and that the real meaning of sexual difference is to be found in a structural asymmetry between these relations. If one becomes a ‘subject of desire’ one can never be the phallus, while if one becomes an ‘object of desire’, one relinquishes one’s position as a ‘subject’.4 Taking into account the perspective of the feminine position of being the phallus makes it possible to see how Lacan thought of the phallus as a special instance of the objet petit a, one that re-structures the imaginary co-ordinates of desire around an incarnated ‘void’. In their contributions to the Cahiers, Serge Leclaire and André Green elaborate further upon the possibility that the phallus should be seen as the terminus of a sequence of incarnations of the objet petit a. Jacques-Alain Miller on the other hand eschews the question of the ‘privilege of the phallus’ to focus on the formal properties Lacan identifies in the symbolic phallus.

Anika Lemaire notes that the phallus ‘takes on the symbolic meaning of absence of lack […] because of its form, because of its erectile power, because of its function of penetration. It is that which denies the lack, that which fills the empty space.’5 Thus, at a manifest level, the phallus is a signifier of desire, or more particularly, of what seeks to fill a lack. Sometimes, however, Lacan will describe the phallus as the primary signifier of lack, indicating that the ‘signifying’ function of the phallus has deeper, less visible components. In his key article on the subject, ‘The Signification of the Phallus’ (1958), Lacan stipulates that the phallus can play a role in the symbolic order only insofar as it is absent from it. The phallus can ‘play its role only when veiled, that is, as itself a sign of the latency with which any signifiable is stuck, once it is raised (aufgehoben) to the function of signifier. The phallus is the signifier of this very Aufhebung, which it inaugurates (initiates) by its disappearance’ (E, 692). Referring to the frescoes in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii, where a phallus is depicted as about to be revealed, Lacan argues that the veiling of the phallus gives it its status as a ‘sign of latency’. In ‘public’ society, the phallus is hidden, and this veiling is essential to its power. The phallus gains its symbolic power from its absence from the public social field and from the visual field of representation in general. For the child entering society, the fact that it, and it alone, is absent from visual representation lends it a universality of its own (since everywhere the child looks, it is excluded from representation). But ultimately, aside from these historical considerations, if the phallus takes on the function of the ‘signifier of lack’ for the individual, it is because it symbolises the unknowable nature of the desire of the Other. The phallic signifier exists ‘only as veiled and as ratio of the Other’s desire, it is the Other’s desire as such that the subject is required to recognize’ (E, 692). The phallus thus regains its status as the signifier of the desire of the other, but as a symbolic condition of desire, rather than as a particular object. In ‘The Signification of the Phallus’ (1958), he goes so far as to say that the phallus is ‘the signifier that is destined to designate meaning effects as a whole, insofar as the signifier conditions them by its presence as signifier’ (E, 690). In its purely symbolic function, the phallus serves as a self-designating signifier, the form taken by the signifier taken in its status as signifier. It is, according to Lacan, the anchoring point of the entire symbolic order, in its psychological, linguistic and social dimensions, and is the necessary complement at each of these levels to the Name of the Father.

The function of the phallus as a ‘pure signifier’ remains essential to Lacan, and leads him to various attempts to formalise its basic properties. From the 1960s onwards, Lacan attempted to formulate the structure of the relation between the phallus and castration in quasi-mathematical terms. For instance, in ‘The Subversion of the Subject in the Dialectic of Desire’ (1960), he suggests that the phallus, as ‘pure signifier’, relates to the rest of the signifying chain like an incommensurable number, obeying different rules to the other units of discourse. It can be symbolised as a √-1:

The erectile organ – not as itself, or even as an image, but as a part that is missing in the desired image – comes to symbolize the place of jouissance; this is why the erectile organ can be equated with the √-1, the symbol … of the jouissance it restores – by the coefficient of its statement – to the function of a missing signifier (-1) (E, 823).

Once the phallus is symbolised, he argues, it ‘cannot be negativized’ (E, 823), and the ‘phallic image’ correspondingly changes in nature, its imaginary functions reorganised by the formal and signifying properties of the symbolic order.6 In Seminar IX on Identification (1961-62), Lacan begins a protracted analysis of the formal properties of the symbolic phallus which he continues throughout the period of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse. Taking up the logic of Frege and Russell, he proceeds to reduce the phallic function to an elementary ‘unity’, so that the phallus functions as a ‘one’, a unit, in a relation both to an original zero and to the ‘numbers’ that follow it.7 The role of the phallus in primary repression is therefore reduced to a mathematical ‘algorithm’. This logicization or mathematization of the function of the phallus complements Lacan’s further developments of the concept of the objet petit a in the 1960s, which becomes a focus for Lacan’s more phenomenological approaches to desire and sexuality.

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

Lacan’s ‘Science and Truth’ contains two brief discussions of the phallus. In the first passage, he describes it as a ‘copulatory signifier’ (CpA 1.1:26; E, 875). Psychoanalysis deals with the movement of pure signifiers, in their status as separate from signification. The ‘copulatory signifier’, the phallus, Lacan suggests allusively, embodies the power of the pure signifier. It is not a ‘sign’, which ‘always represents something for someone’, but the signifier in its purity, in its status as a purely differential element.8 The task of psychoanalysis is to bring to light the ‘material’ effect, or ‘impact’ of these pure signifiers on the course of development of the subject’s relations of desire with others.

In the concluding passages of the piece, Lacan states that psychoanalysis alone is capable of untying or unpicking the sutures suffered by the subject of science, both at a general historical level, and at the level of particular subjects coming into existence in the age of science. Lacan suggests that Freud first ‘unties the knot’ of ‘the division of the subject’ in his discussion of the Wolf-Man’s anxiety before the fact of maternal castration (28/E, 877). He shows how ‘the nature of the phallus’ is revealed in Wolf-Man’s experience of ‘the mother’s lack of a penis.’ The Wolf Man interprets a scene of parental coitus as implying the castration of the mother. Because he has not yet entered language, and because he has not yet symbolised the phallus, he witnesses the act as a mutilation and henceforth forecloses the thought of castration, leading to his loss of the sense of reality (psychosis). For Lacan, Freud’s case reveals the centrality of the attribution of lack to the Other in the formation of subjectivity. Unless a symbolic gap or deficiency is attributed to the Other, the child will be subject to fantasies of the castration of the mother by the father. In the case of the Wolf Man, ‘the subject divides here regarding reality, seeing an abyss opening up here against which he protects himself with a phobia, and which he at the same time covers over with a surface upon which he erects a fetish – that is, the existence of the penis as maintained albeit displaced’ (28/877). If the phallus had been acquired, the Wolf Man would not have perceived this ‘abyss’. The phallus is the symbol by means of which the abyss or void in the Other can be determined and overcome, on condition that it is taken as an unconscious support of signification. Lacan concludes that ‘the phallus itself is nothing but the point of lack [point de manque] it indicates in the subject’ (ibid).

The core members of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse editorial board do not use the term ‘phallus’ in the pages of the journal. As mentioned above, from the Seminar on Identification (1961-62) onwards, Lacan had himself been attempting to formalise the basic elements of his account of the symbolic order, including the phallus, lack and castration. Since Lacan had taken up the project of formalising the concept of the phallus and isolating its key logical and mathematical properties, the absence of the term ‘phallus’ in the writing of Miller, Milner and Badiou can, rather than indicating a lack of interest in the term and problematic, instead be understood as an effect of this ongoing formalisation. In this case, Jacques-Alain Miller’s discussion of Frege’s theory of the numbers one and zero can be read as taking one step further in Lacan’s project to reduce the phallus to its logical and mathematical properties. In the alternation between zero and one in the process of repression (and its secondary derivations), the ‘one’ would be the phallus, taken in its most logicised form (cf. CpA 1.3:41, 46-47).

Serge Leclaire and André Green attempt to relate Miller’s formalisation of the relation of subject and symbolic order back to Lacan’s ideas about sexual difference and the phallus. Leclaire argues that the psychoanalyst can see beyond the subsumption of the subject under the rules of the symbolic order, and recover the most ‘radical difference, otherwise known as the sexual difference’ (CpA 1.4:51). For Leclaire, sexual difference emerges from the formation of series of erotogenic objects. The concept of the phallus emerges in this way. Referring to Freud’s references to the work of an ‘unconscious concept’ in the shift from anal to genital eroticism (SE 17: 131), Leclaire argues that such a ‘concept’ ‘involves a unity, but one that covers things that are non-identical to themselves: in his example, the faeces, the child, or the penis […]. Perhaps we have here the concept, the reality of a thing that is non-identical to itself’ (CpA 1.4:52). Leclaire contends that Miller’s numerical conception threatens to ‘hide the truth of a radical difference, a difference-to-self’ found in an irreducible ‘sexual reality’ (52). For Leclaire, the concept of the phallus must not lose its reference to the body, and to the sequence of erogeneous zones. Moreover, he explicitly relates the symbolic function of the phallus to the ideas of ‘engendering’ and ‘procreation’, insofar as they ‘transcend the organisation of the individual’ (CpA 3.6:94).

Leclaire presents his most detailed analysis of the concepts of phallus and castration in ‘Les éléments en jeu dans une psychanalyse’ (CpA 5.1), his interpretation of Freud’s case of the Wolf-Man. As the object of his mother’s desire, the Wolf Man ‘found himself identified… in a kind of short-circuit with the very object of his quest, the phallus’ (28). In order to ‘reopen this cycle, to free himself from his blissful identification with the object of his mother’s desire’, he has ‘to enter into the order of the signifier, of impossible identity’ (29). Leclaire suggests that the adolescent Wolf-Man’s fantasies stage an alternation between a world of twilight and confusion and a world of clarity that is exposed by a ‘tearing’ or ‘ripping’ away. ‘Something closely bearing upon his body must be cut, torn up, torn away for him to accede to a world of clarity where difference reigns’ (21). The Wolf Man has therefore grasped the function of the phallus as the ‘signifier of difference’. Appealing to Saussure’s theory of the differential nature of the signifier, Leclaire argues that the phallus functions as a ‘signifier of difference’ precisely because of its fundamental relation to castration, which figures a ‘movement of separation’ and ‘differentiation’. The phallic signifier ‘is the signifier par excellence of impossible identity’. The Wolf Man, due to conditions beyond his control, interprets this in an imaginary fashion, missing the properly symbolic significance of the phallic function.

Leclaire also maintains in this essay that the true reference of the phallus is ultimately to the organ belonging to the agent of one’s own conception. ‘Every separation, cut or loss, whatever it may be (even and especially that of parturition) necessarily refers back to the time of conception, to the phallus; and the phallus, as master signifier, cannot be other than lost with respect to the efficacy of sexual difference’ (CpA 5.1:28). Leclaire already indicates in the second instalment of ‘Compter avec la psychanalyse’ that he believes a ‘structural model of procreation through reproduction’ (CpA 3.6:93) undergirds the order of the signifier. These two accounts of the phallus, as concept of difference, and as agent of procreation, are not yet synthesised at this point.

In the third instalment of ‘Compter avec la psychanalyse’ (CpA 8.6), Leclaire returns to the problematic anew, devoting a session to ‘The Privilege of the Phallus’ (22 February 1967). Taking up the notion of the objet petit a as a ‘detachable’ or exchangeable part, he suggests that the sequence of part-objects be understood as tending towards a reduction of organic elements and an accentuation of form. There is a trajectory of ‘formalisation’ that can be attributed to the formation of the object of desire itself (CpA 8.6:107). ‘The object, in its value as partial representation, is […] at once the agent of an organic function and the representative of the “purity” of all possible formalisation’ (ibid). Leclaire then follows the path from the penis as objet petit a to the phallus. As a natural object, the penis exists in a ‘bipolar’ relation, but when it comes to provide ‘a privileged support to the fantasy’, its properties as objet petit a become freed up. ‘This organ, by its variations of volume, mimics the split between tension and its resolution’. The phallic orgasm ‘reveals for an instant […] the place of jouissance’. Leclaire notes the relevance here of ‘the theme of annulment, as an actualisation of the zero’ (108n). Rather than being an expression of jouissance, pleasure represents a limitation of this jouissance. Nevertheless, the transition from penis to phallus only takes place when the object takes on its role as purely interchangeable, and as therefore susceptible to reduction to a function of the subject. From then on, it can take on its role as ‘symbol of the bar [la barre] that affects the Other (that is to say, its lack)’. ‘The organ-agent […] produced by this mutation is the phallus’ (108).

In his explication of Lacan’s concept of the objet petit a, André Green gives an account of the ‘sequence of castrations’ (CpA 3.2:19, trans. 167) that determine individual psychosexual development. Taking up Miller’s presentation of the logic of suture, Green argues that Miller’s account of the alternating ‘coupure’ [cutting] and ‘suture’ between the subject and the objet petit a can be made concrete and situated back in the sequence of partial objects. At the end of this sequence, ‘the penis plays the role of mediatory between cut and suture’ (24/174). Green allies himself with Leclaire’s proposal that the sequence of partial objects gives rises to an ‘unconscious concept’, suggesting that the ‘structure of the body’ is necessary as a ‘support’ for the signifier (24/174). However, he argues that nevertheless the ‘resectioning of the signified’ that occurs in the ‘metonymic series of different partial objects’ is ultimately attributable to the phallus, which ‘appears, in the form (-φ)’, throughout the series (26/176). Noting that within the intersubjective matrix of the Oedipus complex, ‘the phallus constitutes the standard of exchange, the cause of exchange’ (ibid), he suggests that the phallus has a privileged role in the metonymic series of part-objects.

Green criticises Kleinian conceptions of the phallus, which fail to analyse the structural significance of the notion. ‘As regards the image of the phallic mother, post-Freudian authors say that she is terrifying because she is phallic’. The phallus is thus interpreted as ‘an instrument of evildoing, a destructive weapon and so forth’. But Green points out that ‘Freud remarked that the stultifying effect produced by the Medusa’s head resulted from the fact that the reptiles taking the place of her hair were denying themselves as many times as there were snakes’ (cf. SE 22: 24). The phallic mother is thus not terrifying because she is phallic, but because of the reiteration of her denial of symbolic castration. ‘In this reversal, the subject engaged in annulling castration is reminded many times over of its reality. Lacan would tend to go along with this latter interpretation’ (CpA 3.2:19, trans. 168; cf. E, 702).

In ‘Communication linguistique et spéculaire’ (CpA 3.3) Luce Irigaray bases her account of neurotic pathology around the phallus. The hysteric and the obsessional are distinguished by their different relations to the ‘phallic signifier’. With respect to the mother’s desire, the hysteric, ‘experiences himself as a signifier marked by the sign of incompleteness, indeed of rejection, derisory because unable to sustain comparison with the phallic signifier’ (CpA 3.3:51, trans. 20). Here the phallic signifier is understood as the object of the mother’s desire in the context of the parental triad as seen by the child. If the mother is incapable of symbolising her own desire in some way, then the child will inevitably feel inadequate, unloved and unlovable. With regard to the obsessional, the problem is the opposite: he ‘felt too loved’ as a child. ‘His mother found him too appropriate a signifier for her desire; as for him, he is marked by the sign of his comprehensiveness, or even excess. It is not that the phallic referent is totally missing, but that it is referred to some elsewhere, to some absent hero, whose death would be the surest guarantee of non-intrusion’. The obsessional’s conviction that he is or has been the ‘exhaustive answer to the desire of the mother’ means that he never risks entering into actual relations of desire (CpA 3.3:52, trans. 21). His waiting for the death of the father-figure also produces a sense of guilt about desire.9 In this piece, Irigaray has not yet arrived at the critical position on the concept of the phallus that she first develops at length in her 1973 article ‘Psychoanalytic Theory: Another Look’.10

Jean Reboul’s essay on Balzac’s Sarrasine (CpA 7.5) interprets the role played by Zambinella, the castrato, from a Lacanian perspective. The story depicts the encounter between the nervous artist Sarrasine and Zambinella, a castrato, whom the former does not grasp is not female. For Reboul the story shows the consequence of the imaginary fantasy of the lack of the maternal phallus being played out in reality. In Sarrasine’s encounter with Zambinella ‘real castration […] rejoins the imaginary lack of the maternal phallus’ (CpA 7.5:95). For Sarrasine, Zambinella is ‘castration personified’, shattering Sarrasine’s narcissistic world into the fragments of a ‘profaned mirror’ (96). He never attains the symbolic phallus, and is thus permanently excluded from possessing a ‘specular other’. For Zambinella, on the other hand, Sarrasine’s doomed love merely confirms the social demand that she be excluded from society. Neither male nor female, neither able to possess nor to be the phallus, ‘her very form exposes the world to the loss of the phallus’. The encounter of Sarrasine and Zambinella bypasses the symbolic phallus, the signifier of the lack in the Other. By encountering castration in the real in the story, we are returned to the underlying ‘absent phallus’ (96), the phallus as signifier of lack, implied in the ‘Chè vuoi?’ (‘What do you want from me?’) .11

Primary bibliography

  • Freud, Sigmund. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality [1905], in Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey et al. London: Hogarth Press, 1953-1974. Vol. 7. [Hereafter ‘SE’ followed by volume number].
  • ---. ‘On the Sexual Theories of Children’, SE 9.
  • ---. ‘History of an Infantile Neurosis’ (‘The Wolf Man’), SE 17.
  • ---. ‘The Infantile Genital Organization’, SE 23.
  • Lacan, Jacques. The Family Complexes [1938], trans. C. Gallagher, unpublished translation.
  • ---. ‘The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious’ [1960], in Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink, in collaboration with Héloïse Fink and Russell Grigg. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006.
  • ---. Seminar IX: Identification 1961-1962), trans. Cormac Gallagher, unpublished manuscript.
  • ---. Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Penguin, 1977.

Secondary bibliography

  • Evans, Dylan. An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. London: Routledge, 1996.
  • Irigaray, Luce. ‘Psychoanalytic Theory: Another Look’, trans. Catherine Porter, in This Sex Which Is Not One. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.
  • Laplanche, Jean and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis. Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse. Paris: PUF, 1967. The language of Psychoanalysis, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. London: Hogarth Press, 1973.
  • Lemaire, Anika. Jacques Lacan [1970], trans. D. Macey. London: Routledge, 1977.


1. Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, 313.

2. Lacan, The Family Complexes, 56.

3. Lacan, Seminar IX: Identification, 16th session, 4 April 1962, 10. Cf. Piera Aulagnier’s discussion of this point in the 18th session, 2 May 1962, 5.

4. In the Seminar on Identification, Lacan remarks that the breast can serve as a ‘phallic support’: ‘The subject as he develops will be faced with the dilemma of either being or having whatever the bodily object – breast or penis – which has become the phallic support’ (2 May 1962, 8).

5. Anika Lemaire, Jacques Lacan, 59.

6. Lacan proceeds to relate the phallus to Pythagoras’ ‘golden number’ (nombre d’or), known in Greek as phi (Φ), also referred to as ‘the cut’. The golden section is the particular division of a line so that the proportion of one segment to the other is equivalent to the latter segment to the whole, and the proportion between the two series of numbers continues indefinitely. Phi is the proportion that allows for the construction of indefinitely dyadic systems, permitting the endless correlation between two series of numbers. Lacan writes: ‘The shift of (~φ) (lowercase phi [petit phi]) as phallic image from one side to the other of the equation between the imaginary and the symbolic renders it positive in any case, even if it fills a lack. Although it props up (-1), it becomes Φ (capital phi [grand phi]) there, the symbolic phallus that cannot be negativized, the signifier of jouissance’ (E, 823). In Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan writes that the ‘minus-phi of castration […] centres the whole organization of the desires through the framework of the fundamental drives’ (7th session, 26 February 1964, 89).

7. Cf. Seminar IX: Identification, Sessions 4-6, 6 December 1961 – 28 February 1962.

8. Cf. Seminar IX: Identification: ‘A signifier is distinguished from a sign […] At first signifiers only manifest the presence of difference as such and nothing else’ (4th session, 6 December 1961, 11).

9. See Anika Lemaire’s commentary on Irigaray’s arguments, in Jacques Lacan, 228-29.

10. Reprinted in her 1977 collection This Sex Which Is Not One, chapter 3.

11. On the phrase ‘Chè vuoi’, see Lacan, ‘The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire’ (E, 815).