Primarily, it is essential to note that Lacan associates the lamella with a libidinous pure life instinct rather than with drive-proper; as such, while drive implies a certain fixity on the part of the subject, a ‘stubborn attachment’ which is caught in an “infinitely repetitive cycle, endlessly circulating around the void of its structuring impossibility” (Žižek 1997: 31), the lamella (as the mythological representation of the libido) is situated “at the centre of drive” (Lacan 196), as its instrument, but must be conceived “as an organ, in both senses of the term, as organ-part of the organism and as organ-instrument”.Christine Evans, "M. Hommelette’s Wild Ride: Lamella as a Category of Shame"
We may note how this relationship manifests in the “Sexuality” lecture of Seminar XI, when Lacan locates the libido between the unconscious and the field of reality. Schematically representing the libido as the intersection between the two ‘lobes’ in his diagram of the interior 8 (ibid: 156), Lacan asserts that the libido exists “at the point at which the lobe defined as field of the development of the unconscious covers and conceals the other lobe, that of sexual reality” – that is, the libido is the ‘supplemental’ lobe that “belongs to both” (ibid: 155-156) biological development and symbolic signification. Lacan concludes, however, that the libido’s determinate existence as a point of intersection is “precisely what it does not mean” (ibid:156), and should rather be conceived as an empty space between the two fields which functions as a lack. Simply stated, the libido – the primordial, prephallic abstraction represented by the unreal organ of lamella – is another manifestation of the agency of the lost object (objet petit a). This lost object is in fact “simply the presence of a hollow, a void, which can be occupied… by any object” (ibid: 180).
Yet it is necessary to trace the lamella’s origin back further than this void to ensure against any indiscriminate materializations; for while the lamella represents the libido and its contingency as void, the lamella’s appearance (contrary to many contemporary interpretations) is not an arbitrary infection/colonization of the subject. Anterior to any symbolic loss which occurs in the signifying chain between child and mother is a primary, essential loss that, as was mentioned earlier, is prephallic. This is the loss of immortality which occurs at the moment of birth, when the infant-organism is initiated into the cycle of sexed reproduction; what is lost in this moment is “immortal life, or irrepressible life, life that has need of no organ, simplified, indestructible life” (Ibid 198). While numerous accounts in cultural studies interpret the ‘immortality’ of this life substance as an anthropomorphized persistence or supernatural vitality (the monster that refuses to die, for example), Lacan’s initial distinction is purely biological. Unlike single-celled organisms, clones, and cyborgs, which are capable of infinite asexual reduplication and, by extension, ‘eternal life’, the birth engendered by sexual reproduction is always-already constitutive of death. Here, my invocation of the term ‘engendered’ should be interpreted literally, since the organism’s primordial loss (of immortality) is concurrent with its acquisition of gender or an identity as a sexed individual. This confluence of fundamental loss and identificatory inscription heralds the infant-organism’s necessary initiation into the self-perpetuating cycle of individual death (real lack) and signification (symbolic lack).
Lacan’s myth of the lamella functions to explain this loss which occurs at birth. He illustrates the phenomenon using the following scenario: “Whenever the membranes of the egg in which the foetus emerges on its way to becoming a new-born are broken, imagine for a moment that something flies off, and that one can do it with an egg as easily as with a man…” (Ibid: 197). The ‘thing’ that flies off and is effectively lost to the subject is the lamella/pure life/immortality, and since it is indeed a ‘loss’ in its purest form, it is possible to discern why many contemporary theorists envision the lamella’s incessant anthropomorphized ‘return’ to the gendered subject as a traumatic and disorienting experience. This coincidence of asexual immortality and the physical death of a gendered subject is perhaps best exemplified by the stubborn biological-supernatural fixity of the alien life force which pursues Ripley across the Alien series. As a number of critics (Žižek included) have emphasized in regard to the films, the alien that returns to colonize Ripley’s body in the latter half of the quadrilogy is
just, merely, simply life, life as such: it is not so much a particular species as the essence of what it means to be a species, to be a creature, a natural being – it is Nature incarnate or sublimed, a nightmare embodiment of the natural realm understood as utterly subordinate to, utterly exhausted by, the twinned Darwinian drives to survive and reproduce (Mulhall 2001: 19).This is precisely why one should endeavour to read the Alien series as a dramatization of the death drive, of the subject’s desire to ‘return’ to the metaphysical fantasy of asexual immortality through biological death - and at the expense of her individuation as a gendered/symbolic/phallic organism.iii
Because the lamella is simultaneously a “profound lost object” (Lacan 198) and “the remainder of the Life-Substance which has escaped the symbolic colonization” (Žižek 2005: 142), its propensity for return in narrative accounts often manifests as transubstantiation. Its absence is felt everywhere as a spectral and undead semblance awaiting (re)materialization. Here we can reimagine Lacan’s initial analogy of broken fetal membranes with a slight but essential difference: when the membrane breaks and the lamella ‘flies off’, it parasitically attaches itself to the subject and (unbeknownst to him) becomes his agalma – the lost object that is ‘in him more than him’, much in the same way that fire in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990) and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) becomes somehow ‘stuck’ to the protagonist and cannot be therapeutically exorcized (Žižek 2000: 229). Such libidinal reflexivity is a key feature of science fiction and horror films, wherein a repressed/unknown psychosexual attribute manifests as a positive ontological entity such that “the very repression of (phallic) sexuality is sexualized and mobilizes forms of prephallic perversity” (Ibid: 221). The crucial point not to be missed in this formulation of libidinal reflexivity is its basis in temporality: the anarchic and properly immortal prephallic perversity must necessarily remain concealed until it is ‘awakened’ by a secondary repression of symbolic or phallic sexuality. The lamella here is nothing less than another variant of ‘the return of the repressed’, representing the object-cause of the moment that the façade of contingent reality dissolves to reveal the libidinal and forgotten ‘truth’ of the unbearable pre-ontological Real beneath.