Prelude 2, Sidi Askofaré

Between truth and act: paradox and dialectic of desire

At the same time that he tried to situate the excentric place—roughly speaking from the Seminar “The Formations of the Unconscious” to “Anxiety”—Lacan never ceased to maintain the paradox of desire. But if he only came to speak of the “paradoxes of desire”[1] as such, it is by way of a detour through the moralists. Lacan took support from them in order to produce in the Freudian field a conception of desire all together new.

Indeed, until him, in psychoanalysis desire had for a long time been reduced to its Freudian guise of Wunsch—wish. What Lacan calls desire doubtlessly proceeds from this but also goes very much further. It is Wunsch certainly—and Lacan will deduce from this the thesis that the “dream is demand”,[2] but it is also das Begehren and die Begierde, even—and this is the most surprising—Lust.[3] A category as social—“desire of the Other”—and erotic as it is ethical, that is applied as much to maintain the coherence of a body fundamentally devoted to death as to support subjective division—without which the parlêtre would be mad[4]—or to appear at the level of the impossible relation between the sexes.

But beyond the paradox of desire—a trivial thesis—and the paradoxes referred to by the moralist, psychoanalysis principally brings to light its determination through the signifier that situates the field between truth and the act.

As a result, the paradoxes of the most dialectical category of psychoanalysis burst to be put in tension with some notions as important in experience as the Other, the Law, jouissance, satisfaction, object, demand, inhibition, interpretation, anxiety, defence, knowledge, resistance or reality.

Whence it will appear, perhaps, that the paradoxes of desire—desire which is to jouissance what truth is to the real—are no other than those of the signifier, of truth and of the subject (punctual and fading).

Translated by Susan Schwartz        

[1] J. Lacan, “Subversion of the subject and the dialectic of desire”, Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English, trans. B. Fink, New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 2006, p. 687

[2] J. Lacan, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, trans. R. Grigg, New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 2007, p. 129

[3] J. Lacan, “Desire and its interpretation”, session of May 13, 1959, trans. C Gallagher, unpublished manuscript

[4] J. Lacan, “The Formations of the Unconscious”, session of June 4, 1958, trans. C Gallagher, unpublished manuscript