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Le désir

A central concept of Lacanian psychoanalysis, several contributors to the Cahiers pour l’Analyse consider the interface between the logical and bodily or material dimensions of desire.

Lacan writes, after Kant (and Sade): ‘desire in its pure state’ is desire that ‘culminates in the sacrifice, strictly speaking, of everything that is the object of love in one’s human tenderness’ (S11, 275). Such desire demands a ‘steep ransom’ of any subject who tries to come to terms with it (E, 683/572).

The desire at issue in psychoanalysis is of course unconscious and sexual,1 but Lacan’s conception of ‘desire’ is very different from the Freudian term (Wunsch, or ‘wish’) it initially translates (CpA 3.6:90). For Freud, an unconscious wish seeks fulfilment, e.g. in dreams, by evoking signs or ‘memory traces’ tied to formative experiences of pleasure.2 Lacan follows Freud in distinguishing desire from mere need or demand, which might secure satisfaction through acquisition or consumption of a particular object. Whereas Freud merely complicates the relation between wish and satisfaction (which must proceed through the detours of semi-conscious censorship), Lacan cuts the direct link between satisfaction and desire altogether, and in the process he proposes a new model of the unconscious subject.

The bare outlines of this much-summarised model might be sketched as follows:

Unlike some other animals, the biological needs of a human infant can only be met by another human (or by other humans). The infant soon comes to demand not only the satisfaction of its bodily needs but also the love of the other (or ‘mother’) who provides that satisfaction. ‘Desire begins to take shape in the margin in which demand rips away from need’ (E, 814/689), and thereby becomes first and foremost a desire for recognition, a desire to be desired by the other, to become the object of the (m)other’s desire. The infant only comes to recognise itself as a subject in the eyes of the other, as ‘mirrored’ in the gaze of the other (and there is no inner self that precedes a relation with the other). One’s desire is then never authentically one’s ‘own’ (as Heidegger might want to argue) so much as ‘the desire of the Other’.3 More precisely, as Bertrand Ogilvie explains, ‘to desire is not to desire the other but to desire the desire of the other.’4 And insofar as the other remains precisely other, the nature of desire remains fundamentally enigmatic. The subject desires the desire of the other, without ever quite knowing what this involves.5

To begin with, this means that the infant’s desire is mediated by the other who more or less satisfies its demands, who provides what it lacks, i.e., its mother. ‘Desire is a relation of being to lack’,6 and insofar as what the mother herself lacks and desires is symbolised by the ‘phallus’, the infant’s primordial desire is to become this missing and imaginary object, and thereby satisfy the mother (i.e., fill in the apparent gap in the other) and secure her love.7 Lacan (followed by Slavoj Žižek and Alenka Zupančič) draws attention to an essential similarity between the imperatives of desire and of Kant’s moral law, in their common ‘disregard for the “demands of reality”: neither acknowledges the excuse of circumstances or unfavourable consequences.’8

The essential stage in the dialectic of desire (and of human development in general) takes place when, through entrance into the symbolic order of language and social convention, i.e., through ‘symbolic castration’, the child submits to what Lacan calls the ‘paternal law’ – the symbolic father’s ‘no!’ to union with the (m)other. The symbolic law commands renunciation of any imaginary attempt to be the missing phallic object, and thus ‘separates’ child from mother once and for all. The subject who resolves the ensuing Oedipal crisis in the ‘normal’ way will accede, at this price, to the domain of subjectivity, speech and the community it sustains. As an individual subject ‘is a subject only insofar as he/she speaks’ (E, 634/530), to be the subject of speech is to be subjected to the signifier. More graphically, ‘from the Freudian point of view, man is the subject captured and tortured by language’;9 what is at issue in an analysis of the subject is not ‘its psychological properties, but what is hollowed out in the experience of speech.’10

The subject that is thus subject to and represented by a signifier (for another signifier) is for the same reason ‘barred’, split and evanescent or ‘fading’. ‘The signifier, producing itself in the field of the Other, makes manifest the subject of its signification. But it functions as a signifier only to reduce the subject in question to being no more than a signifier, to petrify the subject in the same movement in which it calls the subject to function, to speak, as subject’ (S11, 207-208).

Recognition of desire (and desire for recognition) can only proceed in this symbolic domain. ‘It is only once it is formulated, named in the presence of the other, that desire, whatever it is, is recognised in the full sense of the term’ (S1, 183). The first priority of psychoanalysis is thus ‘to teach the subject to name, to articulate, to bring this desire into existence’ (S2, 228). Or again: ‘desire is what manifests itself in the interval demand excavates, insofar as the subject, articulating the signifying chain, brings to light his lack of being [manque-à-être] with his call to receive the complement from the Other – assuming that the Other, the locus of speech, is also the locus of this lack’ (E, 627/524).

Since the desire in question remains both unconscious and a desire of that which is essentially missing (i.e., lacking and other), there is a limit to what can be said, known and ‘owned’ of it. There is an essential ‘incompatibility between desire and speech’ (E, 641/535tm), and ‘the truth can only be half-said.’11 More precisely, all that can be properly said or presented of the missing object of desire is simply that it is missing: speech misses it. In the domain of speech, the phallus is not a missing object that might be restored or grasped, but simply a signifier for what is missing as such; the symbolic phallus signifies nothing at all (which is also to say that it signifies nothing more, or less, than the order of signification itself, the order in which an object of desire figures only as lack). Within this order, then, the object of desire (which is always specific to a subject) can appear only as a paradoxical and elusive non-object, as something that ‘objectifies’ the situated absence or impossibility of an object, a determinate instance of ‘something’ that cannot be grasped or represented – what Lacan calls ‘objet petit a’.12 Objet petit a is the ‘object cause of desire’, it is all that can be presented of the real – and from the perspective of psychoanalysis, the ‘question of ethics is to be articulated from the point of view of the location of man in relation to the real’ (S7, 11).

The endless attempt to articulate what can only be missed is what sustains the subject’s discourse, in an infinite series of metonymic referrals from one signifier to another. Doomed to perpetual dissatisfaction by definition, by the same token (as Lorenzo Chiesa explains) ‘the satisfaction of desire essentially consists of the preservation of its own unsatisfaction, since a subject remains a subject only insofar as – to use the full meaning of the denomination manque-à-être [lack-to-being] – he is a desiring lack-of-being that wants-to-be.’13 As subject of desire, correlate of its objet petit a, ‘the subject “is” nothing other than the heterogeneous object with which it identifies itself, and in which its lack takes on a concrete form.’14

Normally, a subject accounts for the absence of its object (and with it the heroic futility of its desire) through a ‘fantasy’ which ‘explains’ why it is missing, and which thereby lends a sort of objectivity or ‘life’ to its lack. The fantasy might explain, for instance, why the elusive object of desire is too good for this world, or how it was lost in the course of some alienating development, or stolen by some criminal outsider: according to the logic of fantasy, one day desire might then be satisfied (or the social order reconciled) if that development is reversed, or the criminal eliminated, or God rediscovered… Fantasy defines ‘the way every one of us, by means of an imaginary scenario, dissolves and/or conceals the fundamental impasse of the inconsistent big Other, the symbolic order.’15 Fantasy thus defines the ‘natural state’ of human life – unthinking immersion in ‘the universal Lie’.16

The further task of analysis is thus to help a patient ‘traverse the fantasy’, and thereby recognise that the missing object of desire is nothing other than that: missing, pure and simple.17 It is missing, rather than stolen or lost – properly understood, desire never had an object it might lose. Desire is never anything other than desire of lack, desire for what is missing and has always been missing.18

What is missing, however, and how it is missing, is always particular to the subject who strives to speak the truth of this particular lack. ‘The advent of a true speech and the realization by the subject of his history’ (E, 302/249) involves acceptance of lack in all its irredeemable radicality and particularity. A precondition of the commandment prescribed by an ethics of psychoanalysis (‘do not give up on your desire [ne pas céder sur son désir]’) (S7, 314-319) is thus ‘a radical repudiation of a certain ideal of the good’,19 i.e., a repudiation of all merely consensual, fantasmatic social norms (social cohesion or harmony, divine providence, a ‘sovereign good’, etc.) in favour of a fundamental affirmation whose ‘value’ cannot necessarily be proved or communicated. Analysis comes to an end when a subject’s discourse (i.e., articulation of lack) stops searching in the Other for something that might fill, explain or justify it. As Žižek puts it, ‘an analysand becomes an analyst upon assuming that his desire has no support in the Other, that the authorisation of his desire can come only from himself.’20 With that, analysis of a subject’s discourse moves from desire to drive.

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

The most substantial discussions of desire in the Cahiers occur in articles specifically devoted to psychoanalysis, notably by Serge Leclaire and André Green.

Green’s analysis of desire in Volume 3 draws on Lacan’s distinction of a ‘system of desires’ from a ‘system of identifications’. To begin with, the infant subject desires ‘the primordial object’, or ‘Mother’ (CpA 3.2:16). But the subject can only enter a relation of desire with the primordial object by identifying itself with the image the primordial Other wants it to be. For Lacan, the child’s initial field of experience is thus intrinsically unstable, oscillating in a dialectic that inevitably confuses objects of desire with objects of identification. The first section of Green’s article consists of an detailed attempt to relate some of Lacan’s more abstract remarks about the objet petit a back to the developmental aspects of Freud’s theory.21

If Green evokes the ways that analysis of objet petit a raises questions about affectivity that cannot be answered in purely logical or formal terms, Luce Irigaray situates her analysis of ‘specular identification’ at a level beyond the ‘impersonal’ analysis of language, so as to try to account for the emergence of the subject and her/his desire in its singularity (CpA 3.3:50-55).

In his responses to questions posed by the Cahiers editors in this same volume, Lacan confirms an ongoing shift in his theory of the subject by insisting that there is, for him, no ‘subject of desire’, only one of fantasy (CpA 3.1:9). Fantasy holds the subject in its symbolic place (such that the goal of analysis will be to traverse the fantasy, and to understand that this place is itself empty). If there is no subject of desire ‘there is the subject of the fantasy, that is to say a division of the subject caused by an object, stopped up [bouchée] by it’, i.e. by the object-cause of desire (objet petit a), the object of lack (CpA 3.1:9): analysis is the science which takes as its object not man (as in anthropology) but what man desires, i.e. lacks.

Serge Leclaire provides the most substantial analyses of desire in the Cahiers. In his contribution to Volume 1, Leclaire suggests that there is a unity of content to fantasies insofar as they all concern the ‘upsurge of desire’ (in ‘fantasies of origins’) (CpA 1.5:61). The second part of Leclaire’s contribution to Volume 3 is entitled ‘Elements for a Psychoanalytic Problematic of Desire’ (CpA 3.6:89-91). Like Laplanche and Pontalis, Leclaire distinguishes Lacan’s term ‘desire’ from Freud’s term ‘Wish’ [Wunsch], ‘the master key to the Interpretation of Dreams’. In the context of Freud’s account of the psychic apparatus as a ‘reflexive system tending to reduce external and internal excitations to the minimum’, a ‘wish’ emerges when the subject tries ‘to re-establish the identity between a perception and a mnemic trace that has become associated with it following an appeasement of a first excitation’ (CpA 3.6:90); in the absence of the object that was responsible for the appeasement, the infant subsequently ‘hallucinates’ a satisfaction that is more or less capable of achieving a similar effect.

The primary process of the psychical apparatus, in Freud’s account, consists of the free movement of unconscious energy, unhindered by conscious or pre-conscious reflection (i.e., it is unconcerned by the reality principle). Whereas the primary process aims simply for an immediate pleasurable discharge, the secondary (reflective) system proceeds, by contrast, via ‘detours’, investing memories in such a way as to try to deflect unpleasant reminiscences and to attain secure satisfaction or tranquillity. Desire, then, will proceed in the gap and difference between the two forms of satisfaction, primary and secondary.

Leclaire follows the underlying thrust of Freud’s approach, arguing that unconscious desire is fundamentally bound to sexuality and embodied alterity. More specifically, the dynamic of desire implies four different splits or cleavages: the cleavage of sexual differentiation, the cleavage of the signifier and the object, the signifying order itself, and the constitution of the subject as excluded (CpA 3.6:92). Analysis of these splits cannot be reduced to a merely formal or logical dimension. The signifying order is constrained not only by ‘truth’ but also by its material incarnation, and the object of desire is the correlate of this incarnated order (specifically in a relation of ‘dejection’, as a sort of ‘fallen’ remainder). The movement of desire links together these four cloven elements: signifier, subject, object and body.

Furthermore, the subject of desire takes shape (as more or less normal, neurotic or pathological), Leclaire suggests, according to several ‘constants’ (93-4): the subject’s desire is always the desire of the other, the cause of desire is an object lacking or excluded from reality (i.e., objet petit a), desire is always sexual and ‘engendering’, it is always organised around a fantasy, and for any particular subject it is always marked by irreducibly singular terms.

Leclaire’s detailed reading of Freud’s ‘Wolf Man’ case in Volume 5 applies some of these general principles, and deals in particular with the link between a signifier and the body, i.e., the way a signifier can awaken a sensitive ‘erogenous zone’ of the body. For Leclaire, the signifier ‘is a body as much as a letter’ (CpA 5.1:16), and its evocation of an evanescent ‘experience of pleasure or displeasure’ is an integral part of any analysis of ‘the truth of desire’ (17). Leclaire reads the Wolf Man’s investment in fantasies of veiling and tearing in terms of his ‘most profound desire’, his desire to tear himself away from a protective but smothering union with the mother, recognising that ‘something closely bearing upon his body must be cut, torn up, torn away for him to accede to a world of clarity where difference reigns’ (21). Such desire for castration, Leclaire suggests, is a desire to escape from ‘the grip of the mother’, the grip of the phallic signifier with which the child came to identify (in a futile effort to please the mother), so that the subject might himself – ‘not as the frozen idol [directed to the mother] but as subject, as split and cut’ – and thus free ‘to be reborn, or at last born, to a life of desire’ (37-38).

In the final instalment of his ‘Compter avec la psychanalyse’ seminar to be included in the Cahiers (CpA 8.6), Leclaire return to his concept of the erogenous zone, understood in terms that link (via the ‘cut’ of castration) the bodily with the symbolic. He suggests that the erogenous zones might be understood as the ‘organising principle’ of thought itself, the basis for a varied set of correlations between the ‘typology of Desire’ and ‘the typology of Thought’ (CpA 8.6:99n17). He defines an erogenous zone as ‘a zone marked by the fact of a cut [coupure]’, i.e., marked by a lack, by a relation to the erogenous zones of the Other, and by a relation to one’s own non-erogenous zones. Understood as a ‘set of erogenous zones’, this distinctively psychoanalytic conception of the body might serve as the point of departure for analysis of the ‘carnal’ dimension of desire as such (100-101).

Select bibliography

  • Bowie, Malcolm. Lacan. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991.
  • Chiesa, Lorenzo. Subjectivity and Otherness : A Philosophical Reading of Lacan. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2007.
  • Evans, Dylan. An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. London: Routledge, 1996.
  • Fink, Bruce. A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and Technique. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997.
  • Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams, in Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey et al. London: Hogarth Press, 1953-1974, vols. 4 and 5. [Hereafter ‘SE’ followed by volume number].
  • ---. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality [1905], SE7.
  • ---. ‘The Unconscious’ [1915], SE14.
  • ---. ‘Repression’ [1915], SE14.
  • ---. Beyond the Pleasure Principle [1920], SE18.
  • Gillespie, Sam. The Mathematics of Novelty: Badiou’s Minimalist Metaphysics. Melbourne:, 2008.
  • Haute, Philippe van. Against Adaptation: Lacan’s ‘Subversion of the Subject’. New York: Other Press, 2002.
  • Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink, in collaboration with Héloïse Fink and Russell Grigg. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006.
  • ---. Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and Technique of Psychoanalysis [1954-55], trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: W.W. Norton, 1991.
  • ---. Seminar V: The formations of the unconscious [1957-1958], trans. Cormac Gallagher, unpublished manuscript.
  • ---. Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: W.W. Norton, 1978.
  • ---. Seminar XII: Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis [1964-65], trans. Cormac Gallagher, unpublished manuscript.
  • ---. Seminar XIII: The Object of Psychoanalysis [1965-66], trans. Cormac Gallagher, unpublished manuscript.
  • ---. Television, trans. Denis Hollier et al., ed. Joan Copjec. New York: Norton, 1990.
  • Laplanche, Jean, and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis. The Language of Psychoanalysis, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. London: Hogarth, 1974.
  • Leclaire, Serge. Psychanalyser. Paris: Seuil, 1969. Psychoanalyzing, trans. Peggy Kamuf. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.
  • Ogilvie, Bertrand. Lacan, La Formation Du Concept De Sujet (1932-1949). Paris: PUF, 1987.
  • Žižek, Slavoj. Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991.
  • ---. Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993.
  • ---. The Metastases of Enjoyment : Six Essays on Woman and Causality, Wo Es War. London; New York: Verso, 1994.
  • ---. The Plague of Fantasies. London: Verso, 1997.
  • ---. The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology. London: Verso, 1999.
  • Zupančič, Alenka. Ethics of the Real: Kant, Lacan. London: Verso, 2000.


1. That ‘the motives of the unconscious are limited to sexual desire [is] a point on which Freud was quite clear from the outset and from which he never deviated’ (E, 432/359).

2. As Laplanche and Pontalis explain, ‘the Freudian conception of desire refers above all to unconscious wishes, bound to indestructible infantile signs’. Whereas mere ‘need’ can achieve direct satisfaction [Befriedigung] through action that procures the needed object (e.g. food or comfort), what Freud calls unconscious wishes ‘are indissolubly bound to “memory-traces”, and they are fulfilled [Erfullung] through the hallucinatory reproduction of the perceptions which have become the signs of this satisfaction’ (Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, 481).

3. S11, 235; cf. S1, 147. Lacan’s text reads: ‘If it is merely at the level of the desire of the Other that man can recognize his desire, as desire of the Other, is there not something here that must appear to him to be an obstacle to his fading, which is a point at which his desire can never be recognized? This obstacle is never lifted, nor ever to be lifted, for analytic experience shows us that it is in seeing a whole chain come into play at the level of the desire of the Other that the subject’s desire is constituted […]. In the relation of desire to desire, something of alienation is preserved […] with, on the one hand, what has been constituted on the basis of primal repression, of the fall, of the Unterdruckung, of the binary signifier, and, on the other hand, what appears first as lack in what is signified by the dyad of signifiers, in the interval that links them, namely, the desire of the Other’ (S11, 235-236).

4. Ogilvie, Lacan, 105.

5. Hence, Alenka Zupančič argues, the basis for a ‘convergence’ between Kant and Lacan: that ‘“the law is a law of the unknown” is the fundamental proposition of any ethics worthy of the name’ (Zupančič, Ethics of the Real, 164).

6. The full passage reads:

Desire is a relation of being to lack. This lack is the lack of being properly speaking. It isn’t the lack of this or that, but lack of being whereby the being exists. This lack is beyond anything which can represent it. It is only ever represented as a reflection on a veil. The libido, but now no longer as used theoretically as a quantitative quantity, is the name of what animates the deep-seated conflict at the heart of human action. We necessarily believe that, at the centre, things are really there, solid, established, waiting to be recognised, and that the conflict is marginal. But what does the Freudian experience teach us? If not that what happens in the domain of so-called consciousness, that is on the level of the recognition of objects, is equally misleading in relation to what the being is looking for? In so far as the libido creates the different stages of the object, the objects are never it – except from the moment when that would be entirely it, thanks to a genital maturation of the libido, the experience of which in analysis retains a character which is, there is no denying it, ineffable, since as soon as one wants to spell it out, one ends up in all sorts of contradictions, including the impasse of narcissism.

Desire, a function central to all human experience, is the desire for nothing nameable. And at the same time this desire lies at the origin of every variety of animation. If being were only what it is, there wouldn’t even be room to talk about it. Being comes into existence as an exact function of this lack. Being attains a sense of self in relation to being as a function of this lack, in the experience of desire. In the pursuit of this beyond, which is nothing, it harks back to the feeling of a being with self-consciousness, which is nothing but its own reflection in the world of things. For it is the companion of beings there before it, who do not in fact know themselves (S2, 223-224).

7. Cf. Van Haute, Against Adaptation, 113-114, 118; Chiesa, Subjectivity and Otherness, 66-73.

8. Žižek, Metastases of Enjoyment, 68; cf. Lacan, S7, 315.

9. Lacan continues: ‘Psychoanalysis introduces us to a psychology, to be sure, but which one? Psychology properly so-called is effectively a science of perfectly well-defined objects. But, undoubtedly, by virtue of the significant resonances of the word, we slide into confusing it with something that refers to the soul. One thinks that everyone has his own psychology. One would be better off, in this second usage, to give it the name it could be given. Let’s make no mistake – psychoanalysis isn’t an egology. From the Freudian perspective of man’s relationship to language, this ego isn’t at all unitary, synthetic. It’s decomposed, rendered complex in various agencies – the ego, the superego, the id’ (S3, 243).

10. S1, 230. ‘It is the act of speech which is constitutive. The progress of an analysis does not consist in the enlarging of the field of the ego, it is not the reconquest by the ego of its margin of the unknown, rather it is a genuine inversion, a displacement, like a minuet executed by the ego and the id’ (232). And ‘if one has to define the moment at which man becomes human, we can say that it is the moment when, however little it be, he enters into the symbolic relation’ (155).

11. S17, 39: ‘saying it all is literally impossible: words fail. Yet it is through this very impossibility that the truth holds onto the real’ (Lacan, Television, 3).

12. Qua object of desire, Van Haute explains, ‘the object a can only fulfil its role when it is of an order other than the object of the demand, The object of the demand is an object I can actually give or obtain […], by contrast the object a must give concrete form to the lack without immediately destroying it, or what comes down to the same thing, without reducing it to a lack that could in principle be remedied’ – e.g. the experience of being the object of an enigmatic gaze. Strictly speaking, the object a gives form to desire precisely by ‘dis-incarnating’ the lack that desire desires: ‘it gives it a minimal bodily content (incarnation), but at the same time remains beyond our grasp in the phenomenal world, which it permanently disrupts […]. The object a, we could also say, does give a determination to the void that is introduced by the signifier – but this determination does not destroy this void. On the contrary, it makes of it a “determinate void”’ (Van Haute, Against Adaptation, 148-149, 151). Or again: ‘the object (a) is not subsumed within language, and thus does not exist as one signifier among others. At the same time, however, what makes object (a) what it is directly results from the fact that language fails to subsume the totality of being: the object (a) is the emergence, in the symbolic, of that which remains outside its grasp, a positive determination of the negative indeterminate’, and is a category of the subject pure and simple (Gillespie, The Mathematics of Novelty, 110).

13. Chiesa, Subjectivity and Otherness, 155. In Lacan’s own terms: ‘Desire is what manifests itself in the interval demand excavates just shy of itself, insofar as the subject, articulating the signifying chain, brings to light his lack of being [manque à être] with his call to receive the complement of this lack from the Other – assuming that the Other, the locus of speech, is also the locus of this lack’ (E, 627/524).

‘Desire sustains itself by remaining unsatisfied’, Zupančič clarifies, distinguishing desire from drive, such that the ethics of desire can be understood ‘literally as a “heroism of the lack”, as the attitude though which, in the name of the lack of the True object, we reject all other objects and satisfy ourselves with none. In other words, the ethics of desire is the ethics of fidelity to a lost enjoyment, the ethics of the preservation of fundamental lack that introduces a gap between the Thing and things, and reminds us of the fact that beyond all ready-to-hand objects, there is “someThing” which alone would make our life worth living. To the extent that it persists in its unsatisfaction, desire preserves the authentic place of enjoyment, even if it remains empty. It is in this sense that one must understand Lacan’s claim that the ethics of desire (as we find it in Greek tragedy) is linked to the “supreme narcissism of the Lost Cause”’ (Zupančič, Ethics of the Real, 242, 240).

14. Van Haute, Against Adaptation, 160.

15. Žižek, Looking Awry, 167.

16. Žižek, Indivisible Remainder, 2; cf. Žižek, The Plague of Fantasies, 130.

17. ‘Lacan’s name for what occurs at the end of the cure is traversing the fantasy. But since what the fantasy does, for Lacan, is veil from the subject his/her own implication in and responsibility for how s/he experiences the world, to traverse the fantasy is to re-avow subjective responsibility. To traverse the fantasy, Lacan theorises, is to cease positing that the Other has taken the “lost” object of desire. It is to accept that this object is something posited by oneself as a means to compensate for the experienced trauma of castration. One comes to accept that castration is not an event with a winner (the father) and a loser (the subject), but a structurally necessary factum for human-beings as such, to which all speaking subjects have been subjected. What equally follows is the giving up of the resentful and acquisitive project of trying to reclaim the objet petit a from the Other, and “settling the scores” […]. The subject who has traversed the fantasy, for Lacan, is the subject who has not ceded on its desire. This desire is no longer fixed by the coordinates of the fundamental fantasy. S/he is able to accept that the fully satisfying sexual object, that which would fulfil the sovereign desire of the mother, does not exist. S/he is thus equally open to accepting that the big Other, and/or any concrete Other supposed by the subject to be its authoritative representative(s), does not have what s/he has “lost”. Lacan puts this by saying that what the subject can now avow is that the Other does not Exist: that it, too, lacks, and what it does and wants depends upon the interventions of the subject. The subject is, finally, able to thereby accept that what it took to be its place in the order of the Other is not a finally fixed thing. It can now avow without reserve that it is a lacking subject, or, as Lacan will also say, a subject of desire, but that the metonymic sliding of this desire has no final term. Rather than being ceaselessly caught in the lure of the object-cause of desire, this desire is now free to circle around on itself, as it were, and desire only itself…’ (Sharpe, ‘Lacan’, IEP).

18. As a result, whatever contingent form it may assume for the subject, objet petit a is strictly speaking the only object of desire. ‘Desire, though infinitely malleable, is not divisible or destructible. For Lacan there can be only one desire, just as for Freud there was only one libido’ (Bowie, Lacan, 139).

19. S7, 230. ‘There is no Sovereign Good -- the Sovereign Good, which is das Ding, which is the mother, is also the object of incest, is a forbidden good, and there is no other good. Such is the foundation of the moral law as turned on its head by Freud’ (S7, 70; cf. E, 767/647)

20. Žižek, Metastases of Enjoyment, 72-73.

21. Lacan:

At the point of departure where my model situates it, a, the object of desire, is from the moment it begins to function there... the object of desire. This means that, while it is a partial object, it is not merely a part, or a spare part [pièce détachée] of the device that depicts the body here, but an element of the structure from the outset, and, so to speak, in the initial deal of the cards for the game that is then played out. Being selected as the index of desire from the body’s appendages, object a is already the exponent of a function, a function that sublimates it even before it exercises the function; this function is that of the index raised toward an absence about which the ‘it’ [est-ce] has nothing to say, if not that this absence comes from where it speaks [ça parle].

This is why, when reflected in the mirror, it not only gives us a′, the standard of exchange, the currency with which the other’s desire enters the circuit of the ideal ego’s transitivisms. It is also restored to the field of the Other, serving the function of desire’s exponent in the Other.

This is takes on an elective value at the true terminus of analysis, by figuring, in the fundamental fantasy, that before which the subject sees himself being abolished when he realizes himself as desire.

In order for the subject to accede to this point beyond the reduction of the ideals of the person, it is as desire’s object a, as what he was to the Other in his erection as a living being, as wanted or unwanted when he came into the world, that he is called to be reborn in order to know if he wants what he desires... This is the kind of truth Freud brought to light with the invention of analysis.

It is a field in which the subject has, above all, to do a lot personally to pay the steep ransoming for his desire. This is why psychoanalysis calls for an overhauling of ethics (E, 682-683/571-572).