Passion for the Human Subject: A Psychoanalytical Approach Between Drives and Signifiers

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His most stark expression of this comes in Seminar XI when he tells his audience that to desire and to not desire are effectively the same thing:.


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The whole of analytic experience — which merely gives form to what is for each individual at the very root of his experience — shows us that not to want to desire and to desire are the same thing. To desire involves a defensive phase that makes it identical with not wanting to desire. Not wanting to desire is wanting not to desire. A fundamental part of being able to desire then is being able to experience the sensation of this lack.

Desire has no more positive ontic manifestation than that, either in an object to be desired, or in an aim to be pursued. But what precisely is this lack a lack of? This lack is the lack of being properly speaking. This is an idea that we also find Lacan advancing in the Ecrits. In The Direction of the Treatment Lacan twice says the same thing, within the space of a few pages: To paraphrase what this might mean: If desire has no home as such, it can only sustain itself in a want-to-be.

Passion for the Human Subject: A Psychoanalytical Approach Between Drives and Signifiers

This dream, and the associations the dreamer brings up in recounting it, show how desire utilises not just metonymy but metaphor as well. But she also notices in recounting her dream that smoked salmon is a favourite dish of her skinny female friend, whom she knows her husband is interested in even though the friend is not his type. We see a very similar operation at work in obsessional neurosis, nowadays referred to as obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD.

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Constant counting and other repeated rituals can be seen as an attempt to move desire on and on metonymically, so that the problem posed by his desire never actually has to be confronted. Hence the uncertainty that Freud sees as so characteristic of the obsessional: The thing he displaces it onto becomes the object of the obsessional ritual. Desire is not a desire for a thing as such. So we have seen how the transformation of need to desire takes place in the relationship to the maternal Other through the articulation of demand. This demand is what morphs need into desire, and illustrates the capacity of the signifier — in this case, the speech that puts our demands into words — to give desire its expression in spite of that articulation of a demand.

This brings us to an answer to a simple question: Firstly, we have to remind ourselves that desire is not simply a wish. It is not a wish for a particular object, like we might have a wish for chocolate cake or for sex. Lacan claims to find desire manifested in the same place that Freud finds the wish — namely, in dreams.

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But for Lacan, to have a wish for something is not the same as desire. Desire is, in the end, never unveiled there. Everything [in the dreams] happens on the steps, in the stages, on the different rungs of the revelation of this desire. Freud himself says that if that were all it was, this reality would be of no interest. It is the stages of the dream-work which are interesting, for that is where we find revealed what we are looking for in the interpretation of the dream, this x, which in the end is desire for nothing. I defy you to bring me a single passage from the Traumdeutung which concludes — this is what the subject desires….

In dreams as well we may find that a need becomes mangled in a way that allows something quite beyond the satisfaction of need to be expressed. As Freud writes in his Introductory Lectures to psychoanalysis, polar explorers do not just dream of the food they have a need for, but vast quantities of food of all different varieties, or a postman giving a long, apologetic story about why he was unable to deliver the mail sooner SE XV, The point here is that the dream does not just represent the wish fulfilled or the need satisfied, but the need or wish in the process of its satisfaction , and thereby something more than the wish; and so we find desire not in the satisfaction of need but in the details of the dream that do not need to be there.

If we are hungry we might not just dream of bread but of eating a giant chocolate ice cream cone in Trafalgar Square. In such an example, it would not be the satisfaction of a need for food or a wish for ice cream, but in the detail of Trafalgar Square that we should look for desire. Psychoanalysis only deals with desire via the signifier. So desire in the dream is manifested in an analogous way to the experience of the infant making the demand of the maternal Other to satisfy its needs. It is not the need itself, but the process of its articulation through signifiers.

For Lacan, in dreams too it is the signifier that leaves the residue we know as desire. In Seminar V he tells his audience:. It is therefore through the coming into play of a whole structure which no doubt is the structure of the subject, in so far as there must operate a certain number of agencies. Here what gives the law of the expression of the desire in the dream, is indeed the law of the signifier….

In other words, it is in the passage of need through the signifier that desire in the dream is to be found. Lacan says precisely this in the following passage from the Ecrits. He is referring to a dream reported to Freud by a patient who could remember nothing about a long dream she had had, except that it was something to do with a channel SE V, , n 2. The interpretation itself is not important, but rather what Lacan believes it tells us about the importance of the signifier in dreams:.

For while he provides this example [the dream] in order to cut short the objection that a dream undergoes alteration when it is recollected in the narrative, it appears quite clearly that only the elaboration of the dream interests him insofar as it is carried out in the narrative itself — in other words, the dream has no value for him except as a vector of speech. What matters in a dream is therefore not the dream itself, but the telling of it, the process of translating the images into signifiers, even if these signifiers are few and far between, or the recollection of the dream hazy and indistinct.

In a article that appears in the Ecrits , Lacan reminds us that the images we see in our dreams do not meaning anything in themselves. We should rather put them into words, translate them into signifiers:. Have the sentences of a rebus ever had the slightest meaning, and does its interest — that is, the interest we take in its deciphering — not derive from the fact that the signification manifest in its images falls away, having no other scope than that of conveying the signifier that is disguised in it? Dreams essentially play around with signifiers through the use of rhetorical tricks.

In the Rome Discourse of Lacan gives us examples:. Ellipsis and pleonasm, [the use of more words than are necessary], hyperbaton [different or unusual word order] or syllepsis [the use of a word to perform two syntactic functions. But it is not only in dreams that we find desire by looking at the signifier. Lacan says in Seminar V that psychoanalysis only ever deals with desire via the signifier. Desire therefore is not some mysterious entity independent of our words, but that is product of our words or signifiers themselves:. If desire cannot be satisfied with an object in the same way as a wish, need or demand can be, in what sense is the famous object a, that Lacan sees as his most important contribution to psychoanalysis, the object of desire?

Crucial in answering this is to understand that object a is not an object that has positive properties or form as such. When in Seminar XI Lacan gives examples of objects a, he does not choose attributes such as hair, eyes, or a smile but parts of the body that are at a kind of margin between inside and outside, that lack specular representation. The gaze is the best example of this formlessness of the object a. We cannot see the gaze as such, and when we try to we see only the eye.

We might feel the gaze upon us from the blacked out window of a passing car or from a CCTV camera, but there is not necessarily anyone behind it. We have the unusual sensation that we are being watched even if there is no one watching. As we saw when looking at the role of the phallus as signifier of desire, Lacan says that where we look for an object of desire we only find a lack, or at best, a place-holder for lack. By the time of Seminar XI in the mid-Sixties, Lacan presents desire as like a hinge or lynch-pin between the unconscious and sexuality:.

This nodal point is called desire…. For Lacan the object a, as object-cause of desire, is the object of the drive, and rather than our desire being to get this object our desire actually circumvents it:. It is not that desire clings to the object of the drive — desire moves around it, in so far as it is agitated in the drive. Whilst it is not for him the object of desire, Lacan nevertheless sees the transitional object as an object that the child appropriates en route to his own desire. Rather than being the object of desire, he calls it its emblem, an emblem of the process of separating need from demand that allows the infant to detach himself from anxiety related to the potential inability of his demands to be answered in a way that satisfies his needs:.

By Owen Hewitson , LacanOnline. All content on LacanOnline. Hi I was just wondering who the author of this article is as I would like to use this in my coursework? Good luck with your coursework! Thank you so much Owen Hewitson, this is a really interesting site. I am writing about image identity, specifically Bowie and how his androgonous image has affected his career and modern contemporary culture. Hello Owen, May I ask if you are a professor? I especially love this quote: Good luck in your work! Congratulations, this was a very good article about desire in lacanian psychoanalysis.

What Does Lacan Say About… Desire?

I have comment, or a question. How are you not a professor!? Thank you so much, you have explained Lacan in a way that makes me capable of and willing to apply his theories to literary interpretation! In her account these ideas inform Winnicott. This book changed my life! Thank you, it has been a pleasure to read, took much of it for understanding of my own thesis.

You have found the language for lacanian translation! I will be thankful to all of you. Can I ask what you think of Fink and his work? Since the sexual revolution of the s and the advent of the contraceptive pill, repression of women has receded in the West. Family organization has undergone major changes, information flows swiftly, while innovations resulting from technological advances are impressive.

Analysts cannot escape the need to evaluate each clinical case, re-reading metapsychology in terms of what is heard in the clinic of our time. This is where we must interrogate psychoanalytic theory along the lines of Freud, who has reviewed it countless times. In the name of interdisciplinary studies between sociology and psychoanalysis, the sociologist Ehrenberg , tends to discard a few formulations of Freudian theory. He considers that the cult to performance and the valorization of autonomy, central values of the present society, share responsibility in causing depression, the foremost symptom of discontent of our time.

In a society where autonomy and self-fulfillment are such valued qualities, the fear of not being up to what is expected becomes constant. Depression would be a way of responding to these new problems and, for the author, would have replaced neurosis. Depression, which statistics today suggest to be a growing problem, may have this dimension of pathology of insufficiency, but from the point of view of psychoanalysis the psychic conflict that is permanent and irreducible is not ignored.

It involves a dimension of denunciation and contestation to the situation created by the economic expansion of capitalism that relies on consumers without hesitation, always ready for the quick search of the last objects and fashion insignia, avid and addicted to objects.

That is, the subject is called to the role of consumer within market, which do not take this subject into consideration. The production of pseudo-needs that mask the lack is enforced, and the production of new objects is offered as an immediate solution. Depression involves a refusal and rebellion against the stimulus to consumption and to overvaluation of the possession of the objects as signs of success and of power and, ultimately, to the objectification of the subject. One of the most impregnable bastions of the protest of neurosis, that gain increasing expression in the 21st century, are the so-called pathologies of the body, of which anorexia is the flagship.

Freud treated it as a symptom, which eventually was present in hysteria, but which appeared especially as one of the main symptoms of melancholy, which include inhibition, depression, self-accusations, insomnia, and delusional expectation of punishment. The elaborations on melancholy formalized in pointed to object loss, ambivalence and narcissistic identification with the lost object as central factors in this clinical picture.

Starting from the conceptual distinction between need, demand and desire, Jacques Lacan extended the scope of the psychoanalytic clinic in relation to the treatment of anorexia and bulimia, opening a new path for its understanding. What is left for the child is to refuse food. In the personal history of anorexic patients, the maternal Other presents itself without leaving room for the place of lack to be created.

She responds rapidly to demands as needs, without providing the necessary space for desire to appear. Through nothingness - of eating nothing - the anorexic opens a hole in the Other. While nothingness in neurosis is an attempt to affirm desire, the second nothing refers to a mode of asexual jouissance, unrelated to phallus and castration.

The tendency to act out in these cases requires a great deal of caution from the analyst who is running the risk of witnessing a victory of the death drive over Eros. Thus, anorexia is situated in a position opposed to that of the capitalist discourse.

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We keep finding hysterias, obsessive neuroses and traumatic neuroses in our clinic. Patients keep challenging analysts to listen to their hesitations about sex itself. They insist on addressing their obsessive questions about desire and, increasingly, the subjects beset by social traumas seek in psychoanalysis a place to witness the unspeakable pain of the wounded soul. Let us return to this escalation of challenges that we face in the day-to-day clinical practice of the 21st century.

Hence Freud, in addition to considering conflict as inherent in the civilizing process, considers discontent in culture as irrevocable.

The opposition to cultural impositions is guaranteed by the drive, this ungovernable object, discovered by poets and elevated by psychoanalysis to the dignity of science Braunstein, That is, work and drive satisfaction through the creation, in search for transformation of aspects of the culture that cause suffering. Finally, it is worth emphasizing that neurotic or psychotic symptoms have a potential of social criticism that can only find fertile ground to exert its effects if there are those who are willing to listen. It was what Freud did with the hysterics, who denounced their sexual dissatisfaction through their symptoms; with Schreber, the writer of the minutiae of his delirium in which the references to the rigor and sadism that presided over his creation by his father surfaced, a sadism that brought traces of the cruel morality of pre-Nazi Germany; and the neurotics of war who expressed, in their motor disturbances and crises of distress, their despair and refusal to the brutality of war.

Raizes del concepto de acto en el seminario VII y en la primera topica: In Acerca de la etica del psicoanalisis pp. Rio de Janeiro, RJ: Estudios sobre la histeria. In Obras completas de Sigmund Freud J. El malestar en la cultura. In The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud , A. Project for a scientific psychology. In The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud J. Freud e a cultura. Le seminaire, livre IV: A modernidade vienense e as crises de identidade.

O homem sem gravidade: Rio de Janeiro RJ ,: The term primal repression will be reserved for the psychic operation that prevents access to the consciousness of ideas and impulses that can generate conflicts Verdrangung. Then, in , it is mentioned in the Project for a Scientific Psychology , in Studies on Hysteria , , in a paragraph of the article Sexuality in the Etiology of Neuroses , , and once in the Interpretation of Dreams , in However, it only takes a conceptual value in Services on Demand Journal.

Articles Approaching the complex subject-culture articulation 1.


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Abstract From the beginning of psychoanalysis, Freud explained that the subject is inseparable from culture. Although these predisposing factors to neurosis may or may not have this effect, Freud says: All of these considerations led Freud to insist that neuroses always succeed in thwarting the purposes of culture and that they effectively do the work of the repressed mental forces that are hostile to culture: It is a way of conquering eroticism through aesthetic and ethical elevation: October 27, ; Revised: This anti-essentialist account avoids Althusser 's functionalist position.

Meaning is created as a part of the signifying chain of language in the impact of the Other on the self, rather than being signified. The primacy of signifier over what is signfied in the unconscious. Lacan's connection of psychoanalysis with linguistics has been recognized as as significant move by many.

The structuring of the unconscious and tying it to language is criticized as simplification and subversion. Many critics have pointed out that the unconscious is highly symbolic and resistant to syntax. Lacan's equation of language and culture does not take account of power, ideology and social institutions, each of which may also contribute towards trauma and internal divisions. There is no attention paid to the how the subject acts in individual and global social situations, nor are the forces of culture and politics considered in any detail these also are dismissed as a sub-aspect of the signifier.

Lacan fails to recognize that people are capable of self-reflection and self-actualization and hence can escape his impossible trap. If we are trapped and all image is distortion then Lacan himself was trapped and his own views distorted. Any theory of inevitable blindness thus defeats itself. Mirror phase , Subject. Please help and share: Home Top Menu Quick Links. Lacan would cope with transference by suddenly terminating the session. Linguistic domination As desire and connection is created through language, Lacan explains this through Saussure 's signifier and signified , which are seen not as referring to objects but to psychic representations created by their interplay and by culture and history.

Discussion A major contribution that Lacan brought was in the emphasis of language in the creation of the self and psychic and sexual life. Issues of core importance in Lacanian psychoanalysis thus include: The de-centering of the subject The loss and impossibility of unified psychic life The primacy of signifier over what is signfied in the unconscious The fragile and precarious relationship with the Other Lacan's connection of psychoanalysis with linguistics has been recognized as as significant move by many.