Jacques Lacan


Jacques Lacan : biography

13 April 1901 – 9 September 1981


Lacan’s conception of desire is central to his theories and follows Freud’s concept of Wunsch. The aim of psychoanalysis is to lead the analysand and to uncover the truth about his or her desire, but this is possible only if that desire is articulated.Fink, Bruce, The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance (Princeton University Press, 1996), ISBN 978-0-691-01589-7 Lacan wrote that "it is only once it is formulated, named in the presence of the other, that desire appears in the full sense of the term."Lacan, J., The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book I: Freud’s Papers on Technique 1953–1954 "…what is important is to teach the subject to name, to articulate, to bring desire into existence" (W. W. Norton & Company, 1991), ISBN 978-0-393-30697-2 This naming of desire "is not a question of recognizing something which would be entirely given. In naming it, the subject creates, brings forth, a new presence in the world."Lacan, J., The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954–1955 (W. W. Norton & Company, 1991), ISBN 978-0-393-30709-2 Psychoanalysis teaches the patient "to bring desire into existence." The truth about desire is somehow present in discourse, although discourse is never able to articulate the entire truth about desire—whenever discourse attempts to articulate desire, there is always a leftover or surplus.

In "The Signification of the Phallus," Lacan distinguishes desire from need and demand. Need is a biological instinct that is articulated in demand, yet demand has a double function: on the one hand, it articulates need, and on the other, acts as a demand for love. Even after the need articulated in demand is satisfied, the demand for love remains unsatisfied. This remainder is desire.Lacan, J., "The Signification of the Phallus" in Écrits For Lacan, "desire is neither the appetite for satisfaction nor the demand for love, but the difference that results from the subtraction of the first from the second." Lacan adds that "desire begins to take shape in the margin in which demand becomes separated from need." Hence desire can never be satisfied, or as Slavoj Žižek puts it, "desire’s raison d’être is not to realize its goal, to find full satisfaction, but to reproduce itself as desire."Žižek, Slavoj, The Plague of Fantasies (London: Verso 1997), p. 39.

It is also important to distinguish between desire and the drives. The drives are the partial manifestations of a single force called desire.The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Lacan’s concept of the "objet petit a" is the object of desire, although this object is not that towards which desire tends, but rather the cause of desire. Desire is not a relation to an object but a relation to a lack (manque).


Lacan maintains Freud’s distinction between drive (Trieb) and instinct (Instinkt). Drives differ from biological needs because they can never be satisfied and do not aim at an object but rather circle perpetually around it. The true source of jouissance is the repetition of the movement of this closed circuit. Lacan posits the drives as both cultural and symbolic constructs—to him, "the drive is not a given, something archaic, primordial." He incorporates the four elements of the drives as defined by Freud (the pressure, the end, the object and the source) to his theory of the drive’s circuit: the drive originates in the erogenous zone, circles round the object, and returns to the erogenous zone. The three grammatical voices structure this circuit:

  1. the active voice (to see)
  2. the reflexive voice (to see oneself)
  3. the passive voice (to be seen)

The active and reflexive voices are autoerotic—they lack a subject. It is only when the drive completes its circuit with the passive voice that a new subject appears. Despite being the "passive" voice, the drive is essentially active: "to make oneself be seen" rather than "to be seen." The circuit of the drive is the only way for the subject to transgress the pleasure principle.