The recent exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work, “Implicit Tension” (January 25–July 10, 2019), at the Guggenheim, explores the artist’s obsession with the magical, the demonic, and the unveiled phallus. It is Mapplethorpe’s artistic obsessions, personified in the photographs of the X, Y, and Z Portfolios, as well as the deeply homophobic response his photography, even his name, evoke twenty years after his death, that make this recent exhibit an ideal space to reencounter key concepts from Jacques Lacan’s “Signification of the Phallus” in Écrits. For as Lacan (2002) points out “the phallus is the signifier of this very Aufhebung [sublation], which it inaugurates (initiates) by its disappearance. That is why the demon... springs forth at the very moment the phallus is unveiled in the ancient mysteries (see the famous painting in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii)” (p. 277). This paper argues that the historically hysterical response to Mapplethorpe’s work, which culminated in the 1990 Cincin- nati obscenity trial, is created in part by the reenactment of this Aufhebung between signified and signifier, the splitting [Spaltung] that exiles us into the symbolic and initiates “the paradoxical, deviant, erratic, eccentric, and even scandalous nature of desire” (Lacan, 2002, p. 276).



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