Surplus-jouissance, Desire, and Fantasy

In Seminar 6: Desire and its Interpretation, Lacan articulates fantasy as the frame of desire. The fundamental fantasy does not imagine a particular satisfaction, but is rather the frame through which our desire is structured. In this respect, fantasy answers the question of what the Other desires.


As I remarked in my previous post, the desire of the Other is enigmatic and opaque. Fantasy is what fills out this enigma, articulating it, giving it form, such that it embodies a determinate demand. Lacan persistently claimed that “desire is the desire of the Other”. This polysemous aphorism can be taken in four ways. First, at the most obvious level, it can be taken to signify that we desire the Other. Second, and more importantly, it can be taken to entail that we desire to be desired by the Other. Third, it can be taken to signify that we desire what the Other desires. For example, a petite bourgeois might desire a particular car not because of the intrinsic features of the car, but because it will generate envy in his neighbor. Likewise, someone might mow their lawn not because they see an intrinsic virtue in doing so, but because they fear that their neighbor will become angry if they don’t. Finally, fourth, insofar as the unconscious is the “discourse of the Other”, the thesis that desire is the desire of the Other indicates the manner in which desire is articulated through the network of signifiers that haunt our unconscious, producing all sorts of symptomatic formations based on the signifier.

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In a previous post I suggested that psychoanalysis became a pre-occupation for Marxist thought due to a certain impasse at the heart of Marxist theory. Here, in response to Nate’s excellent remark, my aim was not to suggest that psychoanalysis became a pre-occupation of a Marxist praxis, but rather to account for a certain strain of French Marxist theory characterized by figures like Deleuze and Guattari, Foucault, Baudrillard, and Lyotard. What was at issue was a two-fold question: First, why did the Soviet situation lead to such dire results? Indeed, why did the French communist party take on such a repressive structure despite its explicit egalitarian ideals and ideals of liberty? And second, why, despite changing conditions at the level of production did certain social formations remain the same. The conclusion of these thinkers, while varied, was that accounts of political economy were not enough, but that a theory of desire, micro-power, etc., was necessary to account for our attachment to certain forms of power. As Deleuze and Guattari so beautifully put it in providing one possible answer to this question (Foucault gives a very different answer in terms of micropower),

The truth is that sexuality is everywhere: the way a bureaucrat fondles his records, a judge administers justice, a businessman causes money to circulate; the way the bourgeoisie fucks the proletariat; and so on. And there is no need to resort to metaphors, any more than for libido to go by way of metamorphoses. Hitler got the fascists sexually aroused. Flags, nations, armies, banks get a lot of people aroused. A revolutionary is nothing if it does not acquire at least as much force as these coercive machines have for producing breaks and mobilizing flows. (Anti-Oedipus, pg. 293)

In other words, revolution at the level of production is not enough, there must also be a revolutionary desire as well, an analysis of desire, and all of these micro-attachments that bind us to a particular world. In a lovely aside about love, Deleuze and Guattari will say that we do not fall in love with persons, but with the worlds another person envelops. And likewise in our attachment to certain institutions, forms of social organizations, and all the rest. If Deleuze and Guattari treat Kafka as a privileged political theorist in Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature, then this is because Kafka was the cartographer of this universe of desiring-machines or the eroticism that lies beneath our attachment to certain social formations. Indeed, in one incarnation Joseph K even is a cartographer… And, of course, the books of law contain pornographic pictures in The Trial. However, my aim here is not to discuss how Deleuze and Guattari solve this problem– in the first part of this essay I begin with the remark “Take the example of Deleuze and Guattari” –but to show how Deleuze and Guattari’s solution to this problem leads to a certain impasse at the level of political theory. What I ultimately hope to argue is that Lacan’s account of the sinthome provides the means for responding to these difficulties without falling back into models of Oedipally structured social formations or sovereignity as the only possible way in which the social can be organized. In other words, the sinthome provides the means of knotting the three orders of the real, the imaginary, and the symbolic in a way that 1) is cognizant that the big Other does not exist (in contrast to Oedipal totalization and obfuscation of the lack in the Other), and 2) that need not resort to the structuring function of the name-of-the-father as the only way of avoiding a fall into paralyzing psychosis that negates the social relation. In short, the work of the late Lacan with the borromean knots leads to a “psychotic solution”, where psychosis is no longer the absence of the social relation (psychoanalysts refer to this form of psychosis as “Ordinary Psychosis”), and where psychosis now becomes a generalized state (universal psychosis common to all subjects), such that neurosis and perversion are not other than psychosis but rather specific ways in which the knot of the three orders are tied together. I set this issue aside for the moment.

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