When Kim Kardashian was recently allowed to wear an iconic Marilyn Monroe dress by designer Bob Mackie, the latter called this “a big mistake”. The dress, he said, was designed for Marilyn alone. In order to wear it, the reality star tried hard and managed to lose substantial weight in a short time.

The inevitable comparison with Marilyn wearing the same dress was hardly fair. Curiously enough, what I missed in the image of Kim was an essential element of that of Marilyn: the beauty spot on her left cheek. Kim was, quite literally, spotless.

A spot as such has to do with what Lacan called the function of the stain when he exposed his theory on the five forms of object a and, in particular, object-gaze. He did so in his 10th Seminar[1] of 1962-1963, incidentally only a few months after Marilyn publicly wore that dress.

Contrary to the Kantian transcendental aesthetics, for Lacan, the function of space derives directly from the function of the eye. “The eye is already a mirror” and, as such, “organizes the world into space” (p. 223). The notion of object α as a radically separated and lost object allows Lacan to say that the subject is introduced into the use of space in a way that is inevitably related to desire and the dimension of loss. This, Lacan calls “[his] transcendental ethics” (p. 282). At the same time, the eye organizes the world into space in a way that has one consequence, that is, fascination.

Fascination is inscribed in the early Lacanian discovery of the “mirror stage.” If I am fascinated, captured, within the scopic field, it is in order to be blinded to loss. My image, says Lacan, my presence in the Other leaves no residue. The image of my body within the specular field has a fascinating character that is connected with the structure of each subject, but also with the function of cognition, to the extent that the latter is gestaltian, that is, “marked by the predominance of a Prӓgnanz”: “I cannot see what I lose there. This is the meaning of the mirror stage” (p. 253). The object a has no image within the specular field, it is lost, it is therefore the object that I cannot see that I lose.

The specular image is captivating because there is something deeply satisfying in it. It is the satisfaction of an illusion. We are fascinated, for example, by Marilyn’s radiant smile, by her exquisite figure.

I wrote radiant.

Lacan uses the term “point of irradiation” (p. 241). With this term he tries to indicate that, within the scopic/spatial field, there is always a privileged point that maintains a relationship with desire and its object-cause. This point is also a “point of anxiety” and “point of concern.” For the subject to be protected from anxiety and become tranquil, this privileged point must be spread across the scopic field. It cannot disappear completely, so, the only way to get rid of it and calm down, is to spread it in space, that is, make it be everywhere and nowhere. The dispersion of this point of anxiety effected, for example, by Marilyn’s smile protects us from the fascination of the gaze, which is nevertheless reintroduced in another way.

Whatever frees us from the point of anxiety inevitably indicates it to us at the same time. The threat is invisible, but, also, indicated. The satisfaction to be found in appearance and in form as such is revealed when a stain, a sign of beauty, a beauty spot happens to rupture the illusion within the visual field. And it does so by having a function of gaze: “Over and above the form it stains, the beauty spot regards me. It attracts me so paradoxically because it’s gazing at me” (p. 253). Marilyn’s beauty spot is gazing at me, and so is the dead-still eye of the sea-monster at the final scene of Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” (p. 254); “It is as if it is looking at us,” says Marcello Mastroianni. Here lies the secret of this mysterious attraction. A stain attracts me so much, despite the fact, or rather because it causes anxiety to emerge. Being inside the image, it is its privileged point that maintains a relationship with desire and its object-cause and reintroduces what is radically absent from it: the privileged object a.

It is therefore this privileged point that I missed in Kim’s image; this point that locates the function of desire within the scopic field and is inscribed in what we may call with Lacan the transcendental ethics of Marilyn’s figure. I shall not pretend, though, that I didn’t miss the way Marilyn’s beauty at the same time conceals this function. A concealment effected, to quote Truman Capote, by “the presence, the luminosity, the flickering intelligence, the poetry” of this “beautiful child,” that could “only be caught by the camera.”[2]

[1] Lacan, J. Anxiety. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book X., transl. A. R. Price, Polity Press, 2014. Numbers in brackets indicate pages of the English translation.

[2] Capote, T. Music for Chameleons, Vintage Books, 2012, p. 221.