Destiny of Desire

March 2, 2019, İstanbul, Conference: What does Lacan say about desire?

Ceren Korulsan

Do you know what desire is? Hard to say. Do you know what your desire is? How could you say, when the words fail to pronounce it. Nothing is more enigmatic in our encounters than what others desire in us and why we are desired. In short, there is a mystery of desire. Lacan demonstrates the relationship of demand and desire and why the heart of desire is a lack. I may mention two lacks: lack of signifier for the subject and lack of object for the desire. The clinic shows us that the subject can identify with the desire of the other and it’s what the subject get like the meaning of the desire of the Other.

Lacan proposes to distinguish two logical moments: the first is alienation from which arises the dimension of a barred subject. The second is separation in the encounter of the desire of the Other which arise the dimension of the object cause of desire. The formula of the fantasy serves us to write the relation of these two terms: $<>a. Fantasy is the subject’s response to the confrontation with the question of desire. It serves the subject in giving meaning to desire against the indeterminate character of jouissance.

Lacan, in the seminar “Desire and Its Interpretation,” says that the fantasy is the relation of an eclipse, a fading, an aphanisis of the subject as it fades away, abolishes itself, with an object. He defines fantasy as something that cuts, a certain fainting (évanouissement), a certain signifying syncope of the subject in the presence of an object, which satisfies a certain accommodation. As Lacan defines it here, desire is neither a will nor a wish. It is not the Wunsch that fulfills the dream. The fantasy does not fulfill the desire as the dream does, it accommodates it. To fade, in English, is to vanish, to faint. This means that the specificity of fantasy is that the subject is fading, fainting in front of the object. The lozenge in the formula is the symbol of the conjunction and disjunction used to read both as “subject and object” and “subject or object”. So the lozenge conjoins and disjoins the subject and the object. Fantasy is an interpretation of desire, as a response to its enigma plugging the hole opened by the signifier of A barred.

In Lacan’s teaching, there are two statutes of the Other: the one that exists, unitary. Where there is a lapsus, slip of tongue and dream, here there is a subject, a castrated subject because of language and who believes in the Other. It is from the signifier of the Other that the subject finds his symbolic status and is recognized, he obtains identification effects, master signifiers that serve him to identify. The subject ex-sists to the Other to which he connects, supposing that there is a knowledge to discover according to the laws of the signifier. The cry of the child appeals and the signifier of the Other gives an answer. This power of the Other is experienced by the analysand when the analyst signals a meaning to be deciphered. This is why he asks why the analyst is silent, why he does not look at him. This demonstrates that the analyst at the beginning of the work is the instance of the Other of meaning.

Lacan in his seminar “The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis” tells us a fable. He suggests us to imagine that the subject goes to dinner at the restaurant. He is confronted with the question about what he wants. What will he ask of the Other? The first answer is the menu, no doubt. That is to say, it is not an object of need but signifiers. I quote from Lacan: “On this occasion, the smell is the menu, that is to say, signifiers, since we are concerned with speech only. Well! There is this complication -and this is my fable- that the menu is written in Chinese, so the first step is to order a translation from the patron. She translates—imperial pâté, spring rolls, etc. etc. It may well be, if it is the first time that you have come to a Chinese restaurant, that the translation does not tell you much more than the original, and in the end you say to the patron- Recommend something. This means: You should know what I desire in all this.”

There is a complication, as Lacan said, or in other words, a paradox. The menu is in Chinese. In each case, including the analysis, the subject does not know what he is demanding and does not know at all which desire is in his request. What do I desire in there? I need the boss to decide for me and the signifiers come from him. So I desire like the Other desire (Alors je désire en tant que l’Autre désire.) Then the subject feeds on the signifiers and they are the signifiers of the language of the Other. This is what will cause his loss, say like Lacan, his fainting (évanouissement), his fading. There are two reasons, conjoined to each other. In his request to the Other, the subject vanishes already for the reason that he will have to represent it by a signifier to another signifier, that is, to disappear there. On the other hand, alienating himself from the signifiers of the Other, the subject will experience a loss, a loss of jouissance. If all requests are basically a request for love, the subject will necessarily experience a loss because of the response of the Other. We see how it’s realized when children tell their parents “you promised me”. From this aspect, we understand how the demand for love institutes the power of the Other and at the same time it abolishes the peculiarity of objects. This term “abolition” used by Lacan also serves to name desire as indestructible (in Seminar V, The Formations of the Unconscious). Produced by demand, desire will be caused by an unnamable object (objet innomable), object (a). For this reason, each satisfaction of the request hid from him his object and his desire aims always for something else.

I come back to the menu of our fable. What do I want in there? The subject seeks the answer in the place of the Other, from his respondent. He wants the Other to ask him to choose this or that and even asks for the object of his desire. The neurotic subject henceforth does not only demand the desire of the Other but also desires the demand of the Other.

The rest of my quote: “For one goes to a Chinese restaurant not only to eat, but to eat in the dimensions of the exotic. If my fable means anything, it is in as much as alimentary desire has another meaning than alimentation. It is here the support and symbol of the sexual dimension, which is the only one to be rejected by the psyche. The drive in its relation to the part-object is subjacent here. “

The demand for the Other has a consequence called transference love. The assumption of knowledge will make the other agalmatic. Thus, the subject will try to capture the object cause of desire as a possible object to target by the request. The subject supposes that the Other possesses this agalmatic object and offers his ideal image, i(a), to the Other for being likeable (objet aimable- Seminar XI).

This is the destiny of desire: the solution of neurotic is too expensive. He gives himself too much trouble for his satisfaction. He is obliged to the Other, which Lacan calls “the subjection of the Other” (“la sujétion de l’Autre” in Subversion of the Subject and Dialectic of Desire).

I mentioned that there are two statuses of the Other: the one that exists and on the other side, there is the Other barred, lacking existence and signaling the incompleteness of the language. When the neurotic solicited meaning in the Other, he discovers that he revolves around a central void, so there is no complete solution in the signifier. The desire that is built on lack, calls the Other of the guarantee to support himself. But indeed, the barred Other is the support of this expectation, these queries, his questions and his desire. The desire that is built on lack, calls the Other of the guarantee to support himself.

Lacan designated by a formula the absence of guarantee of the Other: “there is no Other of the Other”. Set out during the 1959, in its Seminar VI, Desire and Its Interpretation, this formula is a version of pronunciation of the logical writing of S(Ⱥ), the signifier which is lacking at the level of the Other.

What does the Other of the Other mean? On the one hand, Lacan’s language obeys a law and on the other hand, the Other is a set of signifiers and “There is no Other of the Other” that serves to give meaning to everything. In a word, it lacks a signifier to say what I am.

I will try to demonstrate these arguments via Hamlet. In his Seminar VI, Desire and Its Interpretation, Lacan evokes Hamlet as the drama of desire.

Let’s briefly recall the coordinates. The king of Denmark is dead. Two months later, the queen married the deceased’s brother, Claudius. One night, the dead father appears in Hamlet in the form of a ghost. What does he tell him? He talks to Hamlet and reveals the truth to him. He reveals to him the crime of which he was the victim: in his sleep, he was poured a vial of poison into his ear. Hamlet’s mission is to avenge his father. As Lacan tells us “if there is one who is poisoned by the ear, it’s Hamlet. And what makes poison function is the word of his father.” The whole piece is based on his inability to perform an act, which he always postpones. Clogged by this debt to pay Hamlet is paralyzed by a questioning: to be or not to be, that is the question? He cannot decide.

What consequence will this fatal encounter have for Hamlet?

Unlike Oedipus, Hamlet knows, he knows who killed his father, he knows what he has to do but he does not act. The meeting with the ghost reveals to Hamlet a knowledge which was hidden from him: this knowledge is about the mourning of his mother that end quickly and her haste for the marriage. This knowledge is then the proof of lack in the Other for Hamlet. This knowledge is in the order of S(Ⱥ). The barred Other, not only the place of speech, the treasure of signifiers, also means that something is missing. A signifier is lacking at the level of the Other. Lacan said: “It is, if I may say so, the great secret of psychoanalysis. The big secret is – there is no Other of the Other. The procrastination of Hamlet is not the sign of a complicity with Claudius. He could avenge the father and he could have relieved his guilt by killing his father’s killer. Hamlet yielded to the mother’s desire for the king. Hamlet does not want to know anything about the great secret of psychoanalysis. Idan Oren mentioned what is the great secret of psychoanalysis: there is no Other of the Other. Hamlet makes the choice to consist of the desire of the Other, the desire of his mother. He is suspended in his mother’s desire and his time never comes. Lacan argues that it is not the desire for the mother who is an obstacle but the desire of the mother to whom he remains fixed. That’s why Hamlet is the drama of desire. The father of Hamlet is far from being a function that gives guarantee for his desire.

In the tragedy of Shakespeare S(Ⱥ) the signifier of the lack in the Other arrives in a non-symbolized way through the words of the fantasy of the dead father, through words whispered in the ear of the son. Because of this Hamlet cannot build a symbolic frame around this lack, he can neither use the phantasm nor cross it.


The unconscious for Lacan is made of fragments of speech, equivocation in the language that the child incorporated without knowing it in the primordial relation to his parents. The analysis, experience of words, allows the analysand to identify the determinations of his existence but it also serves to discover his desire. The analysand, in the cure, finds himself divided between a mass of signifiers that continue to be linked. The analysand encounters the meanings which, functioning as absolutes, could mark his destiny that his unconscious makes for him. The neurotic, in fact, seeks his reassurance by making exist the Other, the Other as a place of speech and desire. If the Other is barred, it is because there is no Other of the Other. In the moment of fading the subject is confronted with the demand that carries the desire, request addressed to the Other. The subject is alienated from the Other and asks himself “Che vuoi? “. This is understood by the subject as “What do you want me from me? “. This demonstrates the articulation of desire with its narcissistic identification. The subject constantly seeks to capture the object to join the Other and to avoid the dissatisfaction of the division between the subject and the Other.