A psychoanalyst’s first lesson on words: the signifier enters the signified. To illustrate this point Lacan replaced Saussure’s tree with his own example, two bathroom doors with signs affixed, Ladies—Gentlemen. The little diagram that offered psychoanalysis a new way to think about signifiers evoked a childhood memory: “A train arrives at a station. A little boy and a little girl, brother and sister, are seated across from each other in a compartment next to the outside window that provides a view of the station platform buildings going by as the train comes to a stop. ‘Look,’ says the brother, ‘we’re at Ladies!’ ‘Imbecile!’ replies the sister, ‘Don’t you see we’re at Gentlemen.’”
Last year I found myself waiting in line for the restroom at a museum. When I reached the two famous doors, I was surprised, but not surprised, to see that there was no posted sign with the word, Women. There were still two choices of where to bring your bodily exigencies, but they were written, Men and Gender Neutral. No place for Women? The word, women, gone.
In this issue of The Lacanian Review, we are returning to a word, Woman, through Lacan’s rather controversial formula: The Woman Does Not Exist. Despite the absence of the women’s sign, let us be clear about what exists and what does not. What does not exist is the capital W of The Woman that purports a universal designation for all women. What is happening to the woman in our cultural turmoil? Does she exist? She does. She is. She is. . . brilliant or hot or nasty or almost president or cancel-er or chancellor or charming. There exists all the different shes you can think of. She is in fact as infinite as the signifying chain. The series of possible shes that exist are inexhaustible. We simply do not have enough signs to go around.
Editorial originally published in The Lacanian Review, “
The Woman“, Issue 13 (December 2022).