The Pass, Passing, and Turing Passing

Simone A. Medina Polo
7 min readSep 22, 2022
From SOPHIE’s “Faceshopping”

[This short piece is part of my work during Jamieson Webster’s 2022 seminar on “Psychoanalysis and the Body.”]

As I discussed on my first short response, I am fascinating by Jamieson Webster’s discussion of conversion as it coincides with the Lacanian practice of the Pass. This follow up stems from a personal conversation I had with Patricia Gherovici about the coincidence between the Pass, transgender passing, and passing a Turing test along the lines of Isabel Millar’s formulation of the question.

As I mentioned in my last response, at the end of analysis, the analysand moves from the ideations of seeking meaning in desire to coming to terms with the drive which erupts with jouissance that overwhelms the meaningful capacity to contain it. The conversion at the end of analysis is therefore concerned with assuming the position of the drive and learning to assume one’s own body — if the analysand is to become an analyst, not only do they assume the body-drive, but they understand that the body of the analyst becomes something that can cut through the body of the analysand to deal with the question of separation and its anxieties, mobilizing desire in analysis, and dealing with the alienations of seeking meaning in desire by learning to assume the body-drive and its enjoyment. The conversion into the position of the analyst is not a clear-cut, once-and-for-all change — the analyst has to learn to pass as an analyst time after time again in a manner that reflects Freud’s dream about Irma’s injection and his anxieties around his failures and guilts, for instance in letting go of Wilhelm Fliess as an anchoring point of Freud’s clinical orientation onto assuming his own analytic body and the responsibility for his own clinical work.

In light of Patricia Gherovici’s Transgender Psychoanalysis, the analysis of transgender people is highly concerned with its own figure of passing — in the common parlance of trans people, passing is not only how we own up our body, but how that assumption of the body is perceived as realness in the social world by its own right (Gherovici, 2017, 82 and 103–104). Not only do trans analysands confront the drive, the body, jouissance, and sexuality at the bottom line of their analysis, but they go a step further along the lines of the sinthome. The experience of transgender transition is a form of conversion away from the secure anchoring point of the Other or from the self-indulgent posturing of a substantial identity of the subject, instead turning towards the singularity of its own ambiguous passage by assuming it wholeheartedly often characterized by the sinthome as a strategy for living (Gherovici, 2017, 149–158). In this sense, transgender transitioning is a conversive reclamation of life as livable that has to be renewed again and again in a manner akin to the analyst who has to learn to pass as an analyst again and again (Gherovici, 2017, 164–167).

A similar thread of thought that intersects Patricia Gherovici and Isabel Millar is also Geneviève Morel’s essay on “The Sexual Sinthome,” where Morel appropriates Alan Turing’s Imitation Game test of AI to a test of sexuation. The example runs as follows: an analyst receives a person whose appearance, voice, and language doesn’t clearly align with the masculine and the feminine. Can the analyst know whether tell whether they are working with a man or a woman? (Morel, 2006, 65). There are definitely cases where this can be clear cut at the level of sexuation (which is not to say strictly biological sex or merely socially constructed gender). However, there are folks who invite us to consider their own singular path along the lines of a sinthome which may very well bypass the anchoring point of the Phallus as an organizing principle of strictly masculine and feminine sexuation (Morel, 2006, 66). In this sense, Morel pushes further on this point that Gherovici advances in Transgender Psychoanalysis; in other words, that the analysand learns to invent their own sinthome as a singular passage to assume their body, the drive, and their life (Morel, 2006, 79–81).

Along these lines, Isabel Millar’s The Psychoanalysis of Artificial Intelligence is able to highlight this intersection by pointing towards Alan Turing’s attempts at passing as heteroseuxal as well as the Turing test itself as an instance of non-human intelligence passing as human (Millar, 2021, 22). In fact, Millar’s discussion of AI pushes on this distinction between the biological body and the drive body along the lines of: if the biological body will be simulated perfectly, will the drive body be simulated as well? (Millar, 2021, 131–132). If we are not just dealing with disembodied AI, then how exactly is AI embodied and what is its relation to enjoyment, fantasy, and sexuation? It doesn’t just suffice that the embodied AI has the positive characteristics of a certain assumed sex and gender along the lines of the biological body, but more precisely how this embodied AI assumed a position around the negativity that concerns enjoyment, drive, and sexuation (Millar, 2021, 134). To pass as human, the embodied AI has to be concerned with enjoyment and sexuation; and this element is something consistently missing in accounts of artificial intelligence according to Millar (Millar, 2021, 15–21). Much like the analyst and transgender people, the AI has to learn to assume a failure which programmers otherwise patch over as a glitch in the same way that the negativity of psychoanalysis is patched over by the positivity of cognitive behavioural theories and the negativity of transgender people is patched over by the positivity of a presumptive natural sex and its positive attributions.

The core Lacanian concept that helps us here is the lathouse. The lathouse is best understood as a symptom of the intersection between capitalism and science which enable the development of gadgets that inscribe the enjoyment through codification into the alethosphere while also opening the possibility of the siphoning off bodily enjoyment through some artifice in a manner that establishes new conditions for social bonds. And while object a assumes the role of the object cause of desire which makes the indifferent das Ding meaningful through the subject’s enframing fantasy, the lathouse highlights an artificial organ which supplements the administration of the libidinal economy of the subject and which captivates the persisting nature of drive body as something that disturbs the integral homeostasis of biological body. Thus, the lathouse invokes a paradox of the body “as both an unnecessary appendage and a source of perpetual torment… an impasse between the body as finite biological organism and undead algorithmic machine system of signifiers. An impossible space that… the lathouse tries to fulfill” (Millar, 2021, 66).

The non-relation, the lathouse, and the replication of artificial expose the real as the meaning of sex, which was already there in the semblant purpose of reproduction albeit undisclosed — in other words, sex is shown to be an impossible constitutive feature of human subjectivity (Millar, 2021, 181). While the real of sex has been exposed as early as Sigmund Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, the Sexbot becomes a point of no-return that answers to humanity with the truth of itself as the only truth we can hope for in the last instance. As Freud writes:

Our attention is drawn to the fact that we imagined too close a connection between the sexual drive and the sexual object. In cases that have been considered abnormal, our experience teaches us that the sexual drive and the sexual object are merely soldered together — a fact we risk overlooking due to the uniformity of the normal configuration, where the drive appears to carry the object along with it. We are thus instructed to loosen the bond that we had imagined between the drive and object (Freud, 2016, 11).

The sinthome that brings all these things together amounts to a turning towards the singularity of its own ambiguous passage in coming to assuming its own strategies for living — in a sense, it is through the sinthome that artificial and human intelligence pass for human just the same way that the analyst passes for an analyst and a trans person passes for what they are (Fink, 1999, 213; Lacan,8–9; Gherovici, 2017 149–158 and 164–167; Morel, 2006, 79–81). We can try to replicate all of the disparate necessary and sufficient conditions for intelligence, we can even embody it in a semblance of a biological drive, and nonetheless it is this singular sinthome that concerns the drive body has not been taken seriously by much of the discourse around artificial intelligence.

Ultimately, the distinction of human and artificial intelligence is one of a non-relation best captivated by the joke where one orders a coffee to the waiter:

“I’d like a cup of coffee, please, with no cream.” The waitress replies, “I’m sorry, but we’re out of cream. How about with no milk?”

The sexual difference that marks both intelligences is a minimal difference based on the positivization of nothingness. This helps us contrast the analytic philosophical approach to artificial intelligence as opposed to Millar’s psychoanalytic approach. Whereas in analytic philosophy there is a positive analysis of disjointed qualifying elements that are established as the necessary and sufficient conditions for general intelligence, the Lacano-Hegelian approach arrives at a negative synthesis that captivates what links these disjointed elements together.

References and Citations:

Fink, Bruce. A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and Technique. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Freud, Sigmund. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality: The 1905 Edition. Trans. Philippe Van Haute and Herman Westerink. New York: Verso, 2016.

Gherovici, Patricia. Transgender Psychoanalysis: A Lacanian Perspective on Sexual Difference. New York: Routledge, 2017.

Lacan, Jacques. “Proposition of 9 October 1967 on the Psychoanalyst of the School.” Trans. Russell Grigg. Lacan Circle. https://lacancircle.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Proposition_of_9_October.pdf

Millar, Isabel. The Psychoanalysis of Artificial Intelligence. U.S.A.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021.

Morel, Geneviève. “The Sexual Sinthome,” trans. Roland Végső, in Umbr(a): Incurable, №1. 2006. Pp. 65–83.

Webster, Jamieson. Conversion Disorder: Listening to the Body in Psychoanalysis. New York: Columbia University Press, 2022.

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Simone A. Medina Polo

Simone A. Medina Polo is a philosopher and an PhD candidate at the Global Centre for Advanced Studies for Philosophy and Psychoanalysis.