That Obscure Object Of Desire Torrent _TOP_
Description: Just after boarding a train, much to the surprise of his fellow passengers, a man pours a bucket of water over a young girl on the platform. Over the next few hours he explains (and we see in flashback) how he became obsessed by her (so much so that he failed to notice that she was played by two different actresses, representing different sides of her personality), and how she tantalized him, but would never allow him to satisfy his desire for her.
that obscure object of desire torrent
Remember, the paternal function is when your father (or some stand-in) says that your desire for your mother is kind of creepy, and instead of doing that you should follow the rules and be an upstanding member of society instead. Fink says that this function is strongest if you had a good father, and weaker if your father was absent or abusive.
In our attempt to decipher their wants, we are confronted with the fact that people do not always mean what they say, want what they say they want, or desire what they demand [\u2026] Our parents\u2019 desire becomes the mainspring of our own: we want to know what they want.
And I\u2019m having even more trouble separating both of these stories from a third story, the story of the \u201Cmirror stage\u201D. Imagine a baby, moving around. At some point, it sees its own hand in its peripheral vision: a pink blob. At some other point it might see its feet. Sometimes it cries, and noise comes out of it. Other times it has thoughts or feelings or something. As it grows, it might realize some correlations between all these things: for example, it can use the location of the pink blob in front of it to calibrate its aim as it reaches for a block. But this is far from having a coherent self-concept. (cf. my review of Julian Jaynes on theory of mind; Jaynes claims that eg the Homeric Greeks didn\u2019t have a full concept of a unified mind, only various bundles of emotions and thoughts located in different parts of their bodies) At some point, the child sees itself in a mirror. This is a sort of eureka moment when it realizes it\u2019s a united entity with a specific structure - a bunch of correlations suddenly snap into place, and it realizes it can at least aspire to coherence. But it\u2019s not really coherent, deep down. It assumes that if it got some thing - the object of desire - then it would finally be coherent and as good as the child in the mirror, and its mother would finally love it perfectly 100%. What does it need? Probably the thing the mother wants (traditionally the phallus).
All three of these stories come together to build Lacan\u2019s theory of desire. At first, the desire is simply for the mother. Then the stylized father (it might not actually be the baby\u2019s father; Lacan thinks of this as a role, which he calls the paternal function or the Name-Of-The-Father, which is apparently a very clever pun in French) tells it that it can\u2019t always have the mother. Instead of a reward signal based on pleasing its mother, it gets a reward signal based on pleasing the abstract concept of The Law (sometimes reified as Dad, God, the moral law, or the set of reasonable people). This starts with things like \u201Cdon\u2019t get sexual pleasure from your mother\u201D and \u201Cdon\u2019t get sexual pleasure from stroking your genitals\" and \u201Cdon\u2019t get sexual pleasure from urination and defecation\u201D, then moves on to more boring stuff like \u201Cgo to school\u201D and \u201Cdon\u2019t draw on the walls\u201D. This isn\u2019t a very good reward signal, because it tells the child not to do a lot of fun things and it doesn\u2019t offer very much in return, but at least it avoids punishment.
But also, the child constantly desires the phallus (at some point Lacan realizes that calling it \u201Cthe phallus\u201D all the time is creepy and switches to the more clinical term \u201Cobject a\u201D), the shadowy object of desire that would finally make it whole. What is object a? Lacan says that \u201Call desire is the desire of the Other\u201D, which is supposed to mean that our desires are:
It\u2019s impossible to get object a; if you get the thing that you were using as object a before, you won\u2019t enjoy it, and you\u2019ll just come up with a new object a (formally, \u201Cobject a\u201D is the slot that desired things occupy, not the things themselves). The pursuit of some object a is a necessary condition for having an intact psyche, so you always have to be striving after something.
Fink thinks that masochists are, by punishing themselves, trying to sort of ritually enact the law being applied to them: \u201Cthe masochist uses his own desire to push a father substitute to legislate and enact punishment\u201D. The sadist tries to ritually enact the law applied to someone else, who they then identify with. More interested in some other perversion? Fink has an explanation for that one too.
Let me borrow an example from Colette Soler that nicely illustrates [obsession]. An obsessive man meets a woman who attracts him greatly, seduces her, and makes love to her regularly. He sees in her the object that causes him to desire. But he cannot stop himself from planning when they will make love and asking another woman to call him at that exact time. He does not just let the phone ring, or stop making love when he answers the phone. Instead, he answers the phone and talks with the caller while making love with his lover. His partner is thus annulled and neutralized, and he does not have to consider himself dependent on her, or on her desire for him, in any way. Orgasm usually leads, at least momentarily, to a cessation of thoughts, to a brief end to thinking, but since the obsessive continues to talk on the phone with this other woman, he never allows himself to disappear as conscious, thinking subject even for so much as a second [\u2026]
Desire is impossible in obsession, because the closer the obsessive comes to realizing his desire (say, to have sex with someone), the more the Other begins to take precedence over him, eclipsing him as a subject. The presence of the Other threatens the obsessive with what Lacan calls \u201Caphantasis\u201D, his fading or disappearance as subject. To avoid that presence, an extremely typical obsesive strategy is to fall in love with someone who is utterly and completely inaccessible or, alternatively, to set standards for potential lovers which are so stringent that no one could possibly measure up to them.
Hysteria is where someone tries to become the object of the Other\u2019s desire, thus resolving the terrifying question of what it wants (it wants them). I get the impression of some kind of seductive and submissive person who\u2019s good at being attractive and changes their whole personality depending on who they\u2019re in a relationship with (this might be a good time to mention that Fink says almost all obsessives are men and almost all hysterics are women). Fink\u2019s case of hysteria is the typical \u201Cwoman raised by abusive father marries abusive husband, then has a stormy relationship with him\u201D.
Lacan\u2019s theory of desire is complicated. Some parts seem too trivial to care about (eg we desire things, even if we get one object of desire we\u2019ll just start desiring something else) and other parts seem incomprehensible. The thing at the sweet spot for me - where it seems meaningful but not obvious - is the claim that desire is an ego defense. We want things because we think they would make us feel more like a coherent self; we fear things because they might make our subjectivity collapse. This seems closest to true when I imagine a sudden humiliation, eg a pastor who tries to open jesus_presentation.ppt on his computer in front of his flock, but accidentally clicks on the wrong file and reveals to everyone that he watches hardcore porn. There\u2019s a simple and easy-to-understand explanation where he\u2019s unhappy because he\u2019s lost status. But I can also imagine flickers of a deeper underlying unhappiness because he\u2019s failed to project his preferred image of who he is to the people who he\u2019s granted the right to judge him, and now he\u2019s no longer even sure himself.
The idea of an ego at risk of collapse sort of reminds me of Buddhism - \u201Cdesire is the root of all suffering\u201D and \u201Cthe self is an illusion\u201D both seem like pretty Lacanian ideas. It\u2019s interesting how far this has spread beyond either source: I think most pop psychology now just accepts that the \u201Cself\u201D is some kind of projection or illusion, and that this probably has something to do with consumerism and whatever other modern maladies we\u2019re supposed to be against. I guess I always just accepted this idea without really thinking about it. When I do think about it, I get kind of confused: if my entire life has been a series of desperate attempts to maintain the facade of my ego, how come I don\u2019t feel able to stop having that facade even if I want to? How come if I sit in a dark room and think \u201Cokay, gonna stop propping up my ego right now!\u201D nothing bad happens? If everything were to go wrong - if I were to become completely humiliated, if all my friends were to abandon me, if I lost all my material goods, if every defense mechanism were mercilessly stripped from me one after another - would something eventually happen corresponding to \u201Cmy ego collapses\u201D?
And his theory of desire settles on something like mimesis: we want things that other people want, or we want to be that which other people want. Here we veer dangerously close to triviality again. Some people definitely do this, like people who want Bored Ape NFTs, or people who want to be rock stars. Other people definitely don\u2019t do this, like that guy who obsessively collected streetcar tickets. Is it fair to say that this is some kind of basic human drive? I\u2019m not really sure. Probably Lacan\u2019s theory is much more complicated than this, but if so I don\u2019t understand how.