MAN'S RELIANCE ON LANGUAGE
for entrance into the symbolic order (see
the Lacan module on psychosexual development), it is not surprising
that, according to Lacan, we are not even in control of our own desires
since those desires are themselves as separated from our actual bodily
needs as the phallus is separated from any biological penis. For this
reason, Lacan suggests that, whereas the zero form of sexuality for
animals is copulation, the zero form of sexuality for humans is masturbation.
The act of sex for humans is so much caught up in our fantasies (our
idealized images of both ourselves and our sexual partners) that it
is ultimately narcissistic.
As Lacan puts it, "That's what love is. It's one's own ego that
one loves in love, one's own ego made real on the imaginary level"
142). Because we are working on the level of fantasy construction,
it is quite easy for love to turn into disgust, for example when a lover
is confronted with his love-object's body in all its materiality (moles,
pimples, excretions, etc.), the sorts of things that would have no effect
on animal copulation. By entering into the symbolic order (with its
laws, conventions, and images for perfection), the human subject effectively
divorces him/herself from the materiality of his/her bodily drives,
which Lacan tends to distinguish with the term "jouissance."Note
Through the Law (which we come to acknowledge by way of the Oedipus
complex), the human subject effectively chooses culture over nature:
"The primordial Law is therefore that which in regulating marriage
ties superimposes the kingdom of culture on that of nature abandoned
to the law of copulation" (40).
That Law, for Lacan, is "identical to an order of Language"
what he terms the symbolic order and it is supported by the symbolic
fiction of the "Name-of-the-Father."
Desire, in other words, has little to do with
material sexuality for Lacan; it is caught up, rather, in social structures
and strictures, in the fantasy version of reality that forever dominated
our lives after our entrance into language. For this reason, Lacan writes
that "the unconscious is the discourse of the Other." Even
our unconscious desires are, in other words, organized by the linguistic
system that Lacan terms the symbolic order or "the big Other."
In a sense, then, our desire is never properly our own, but is created
through fantasies that are caught up in cultural ideologies rather than
material sexuality. For this reason, according to Lacan, the command
that the superego directs to the subject is, of all things, "Enjoy!"
That which we may believe to be most private and rebellious (our desire)
is, in fact, regulated, even commanded, by the superego.
In constructing our fantasy-version of reality,
we establish coordinates for our desire; we situate both ourselves and
our object of desire, as well as the relation between. As Slavoj Zizek
puts it, "through fantasy, we learn how to desire"
(Looking Awry 6). Our desires therefore necessarily rely on
lack, since fantasy, by definition, does not correspond to anything
in the real. Our object of desire (what Lacan terms the "objet
petit a") is a way for us to establish coordinates for our own
desire. At the heart of desire is a misregognition of fullness where
there is really nothing but a screen for our own narcissistic projections.
It is that lack at the heart of desire that ensures we continue to desire.
To come too close to our object of desire threatens to uncover the lack
that is, in fact, necessary for our desire to persist, so that, ultimately,
desire is most interested not in fully attaining the object of desire
but in keeping our distance, thus allowing desire to persist. Because
desire is articulated through fantasy, it is driven to some extent by
its own impossibility.
Proper Citation of this Page:
Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Lacan: On
Desire." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Date of last update,
which you can find on the home page.
Purdue U. Date you accessed the site. <http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/psychoanalysis/lacandesire.html>.