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RETHINKING DEISRE: THE OBJET PETIT A IN LACANIAN THEORY KIRSHNER

The objet petit a is a fantasy that functions as the cause of desire; as such, it determines
whether desire will be expressed within the limits of the pleasure principle or beyond in pursuit
of an unlimited jouissance, an impossible and even deadly enjoyment

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

The ephermeral, unlocalizable property of an object that makes it especially desirable


Desire can be defined by its infantile origins as the remainder when satisfaction of physiological
needs is subtracted from the childs demands for its mothers attention
Because this promise is not attached to any clearly realizable or realistic goal, desire, perhaps
like infantile sexuality itself, cannot be fully satisfied
Although intrinsic to the human condition, the process of desiring can be problematic and even
totally blocked for many people
The symbolic order can be briefly defined as the collection of codes and distinctions embodied
in language and culture, and Lacan insists that human subjectivity can be sustained only within
the limits of this framework
What he calls the real remains outside of symbolization, inaccessible to thought
A symbol after all, refers to an abstract concept, so that language can only allude to a concrete
external referent without totally capturing it
Because achievement of this aim is impossible, we substitute fantasies of sexual, romantic,
narcissistic or material accomplishment that stitch desire to the fabric of social reality, and we
convince our self that we will be satisfied y realizing them
Desire is accepted as a valued aspect of the human condition, provided it remains within the
bounds of symbolic reality
Culture, in other words, provides a range of symboli objects, which it legitimizes
Private desire is anchored to share social reality notably by scenarios of romantic love in which
narcissistic motivations to create a subjective object are constrained by a culturally organized
intersubjective field
Te object petit a connot be concretized as an actual thing
The objet petit a represents an unconscious clinging to an impossible desire that cannot be
shared or satisfied
Desire, therefore, derives ultimately from the prolonged helplessness of the human infant, who
before it has subjective organization as a self depends entirely on the mother for the satisfaction
of vital needs
The problematic involves failure of the paternal function (a failure of what he termed symbolic
castration) leaving the subject vulnerable to a kind of slippage toward jouissance
The objet petit a to summarize is a fantasy attempting to bridge the gap between separate
symbolic existence and the unmediated biological real of harmonious mix up with the primal
order