Can Philosophers See Beyond Their Noses?


There was a sudden upsurge in sex doll sales during the early moments of the COVID-19 pandemic. An initial presumption: this occurred because of a deprivation in sexual opportunity, since social isolation seems to imply a lack of sexual access. In other words, we are likely to presume that the pandemic ‘lockdown’ interrupted our sexual escapades, rendering sexual companionship increasingly unlikely.

Yet, is this necessarily true?

It is fascinating that newly married men were among the largest demographic of those who purchased the sex dolls. Perhaps it meant that sex dolls were not being purchased to overcome sexual deprivation, but rather to interrupt sexual intensity (since newly married couples suddenly had ‘too much’ access to one another). Hence, we might hazard the following speculation: sex gadgets (which include sex dolls, fleshlights, blowjob machines, and so on) are capable of introducing barriers to existing sexual relationships, even though that barrier occurs through the paradoxical form of a ‘substitute sexual gratification.’

It is difficult to imagine that sexual gadgets could achieve such a paradoxical function. They seem to allow the sexual relationship to persist through another channel, precisely when its intensity becomes too much to bear.

Sigmund Freud called these substitute sexual gratifications ‘symptoms.’ In an obscure essay titled “Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety,” he explored the substitute satisfactions of symptoms, their manner of overcoming repression and of avoiding the superego. These instinctual satisfactions thereafter become incorporated into the ego’s perceptual system, feeding themselves into the ‘repetition compulsion.’ In such circumstances, the ego finds it far easier to permit ‘sexual gratification’ than to institute fresh repressive measures.

However, Jacques Lacan went much further than Freud by claiming that these substitute satisfactions also occur via language. He warned that psychoanalytic interpretation runs the risk of ‘feeding the symptom with meaning.’ For Lacan, psychoanalytic interpretation must avoid the temptation to intervene through further productions of meaning. This has been a point frequently missed by critics of psychoanalysis, especially those philosophical critiques which claim the following: psychoanalysts are capable of forcing meaningful interpretations upon the patient, which the patient, within the session, is basically powerless to oppose.

It was why Freud reasoned that many philosophers seem to exhibit curious agoraphobic tendencies: they fear encountering the messiness of the world, and so refuse to see the world that exists beyond their own noses:

I must confess that I am not at all partial to the fabrications of extreme and one-sided worldviews. Such activities may be left to philosophers […]. Let us humbly accept the contempt with which they look down on us from the vantage-ground of their superior needs. […] But however much ado the philosophers may make, they cannot alter their situation. […] The benighted traveler may sing aloud in the dark to deny his own fears; but for all that, he will not see an inch further beyond his nose.[1]

This passage should be understood within the context of Freud’s wider discussion of symptoms, since he is providing a clever remark about the symptomatic limitations of philosophy. For Freud, philosophers remain trapped inside of an insular worldview, trapped inside of his own bedroom, afraid of the panic that would inevitably occur had he set foot outside into the messiness of the reality.

This is especially evident in those positions which claim, quite paradoxically, to have decoded the intentions of psychoanalysts, thereby revealing, it would seem, that psychoanalysts force interpretations upon their patients. For Lacan, psychoanalysis effectuates a separation of the subject from the enjoyment of meaning, forcing a radical confrontation with the world that exists beyond the nose.

An interesting distinction was once proposed by Lacan. On the one hand, there was the thesis of the ‘impossibility of the sexual relationship,’ otherwise referred to as the ‘non-rapport.’ On the other hand, there was the thesis of the ‘One’ of sexual gratification. Lacan reasoned that something of the sexual relationship (e.g., sexual gratification) perseveres, even, and perhaps in spite of, the ‘non-rapport.’ This eventually led Jacques-Alain Miller to declare, to his own astonishment, that “[o]n the one hand, indeed, there is no such thing as the sexual rapport, but on the other, there is nevertheless Oedipus, that is to say an object — the mother — with whom there is sexual rapport.”[2]

We can claim that the Lacanian thesis of the ‘non-rapport’ does not imply that there does not exist also a domain of the ‘sexual relationship’ for speaking-beings. Indeed, something of the sexual relationship repeats. It repeats because jouissance can remain fixed at the level of the drive. For that reason, the One resists dialectical incorporation, absolutely. We should distinguish this ‘One’ of repetition from the Other, which is the field of language taken in its totality. The ‘One’ is the counterpart of the ‘Other.’ Miller put it like this: “[w]hat is striking is the time that it took me to realize that this expression that Lacan uttered […] ‘there is such a thing as One’ is the counterpart to ‘there is no such thing as the sexual relation.’”[3]

The confrontation with language shakes us to our core, demonstrating that the One of sexual gratification persists against the field of language. It means that one requires considerable courage to pass beyond the lonely walls of the bedroom, out into the field; yet, unfortunately, today we seem forever capable of carrying our bedrooms along with us, wherever we go. The cell phone has become a ‘mobile bedroom,’ which can be picked up in order precisely to avoid having to encounter the Other.

Therefore, the problem is not, as Jordan Peterson has claimed, that we need to clean our own rooms before we participate in wider social discourse. Rather, the problem is that we are prone to keeping our rooms too clean vis-a-vis the messiness of the social world. Love, inevitably, leaks in, instigating fresh traumas and devastations. Ultimately, our task is to learn how to leave our bedrooms again. It also implies that we find the courage to put aside our gadgets.

In his argument for the upcoming Congress of the New Lacanian School, Daniel Roy has said:

Here we can think of what is designated as social phobia or school phobia in the very young, where the subject can no longer cross the threshold of their home or school, because it risks a panic attack. These are precisely moments when the body of the speaking being shows itself to be completely heterogeneous to its surroundings, to its environment, to its inscription in the social group.[4]

He subsequently discussed the prevalence of gadgets for perpetuating the formidable social isolation of our time. Man has turned to gadgets to become, in Freud’s words, “a kind of prosthetic God.”

On the Internet, everybody is a celebrity philosopher, a God and a G.O.A.T. Hence, any contemporary declaration of atheism must contend with these new prosthetic Gods, these ‘ones all alone.’ The gadget extends the body, inch by inch, as a means of increasing the reach of one’s own philosophical vision. Hence, our gadgets seem to be designed not to reach out to the world but rather to extend the tip of our noses, inch by inch. Inevitably, the battle against the social environment returns.

Psychoanalysis promotes another type of atheism: one which equips the subject with the courage to leave the bedroom, to exchange the gadget for the unconscious. In this way, psychoanalysis remains, in essence, a cure through love, since it demands that you love your unconscious.

It is love that brings one out of the bedroom, out of the world-view. And it is love alone that can mediate between these ‘ones all alone.’

tl;dr, psychoanalysis is the ultimate face reveal.

You can watch an interview with Duane Rousselle on Psy-Fi, the Sublation Media psychoanalysis show here.

[1] Sigmund Freud. (1925) “Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety.”

[2] Jacques-Alain Miller. (2007) Les Trumains. Available here.

[3] Jacques-Alain Miller. (2011) “Yadl’Un.” Available here.

[4] Daniel Roy. (2022) “On Discontent and Anxiety in the Clinic and in Civilization.” Available here.