~Jacques Lacan, Seminar Book XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis
I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for French theorists (generally semioticians and feminists), but recently, I’ve developed a bad habit of haphazardly applying some of their major theoretical contributions to my own experiences. But of course, I’m a self-centered (amateur) theorist in my own right, and my chief interest is self-interest. (If theory + practice = praxis, perhaps that makes me more of a praxis-ioner?)
Lacan’s objet petit is the/a symbolic object that symbolically fulfills our desire. By definition, desire is something that can never be fulfilled — after desire is satisfied, it ceases to exist. The objet is some blend of what we see and what we desire to see, what we have and what we desire to have, what we are and what we desire to be. It helps us fill the void, but it never does so fully, as it never completely makes good on it’s promises. In other words, it gives us enough to satiate something, but always/already keeps us wanting more.
As I was skimming Lacan in the original French (which is a generous description considering my meager language skills), I was caught by the oft-cited phrase, “Je t’aime, mais, parce qu’inexplicablement j’aime en toi quelque chose plus que toi -l’objet a, je te mutile.” The language, “je te mutile,” or “I mutilate you,” startled me out of my low-stakes (but interested re)reading and made me recall my own language — the language I use in attempt to describe the mash of seemingly disparate feelings and desires I experience in my current relationship with my submissive.
Sure. I love J and I’m in love with J. But these feelings aren’t new to me. I’ve loved other men and I’ve been in love with other men. While that doesn’t diminish the importance of what I feel, “love” isn’t unique to this relationship. I’ve loved before J and I will love after J.
I desire J (I imagine in all the many ways one can feel desire), and while desire itself isn’t new, the way(s) in which I desire J and the (admittedly insufficient) language I’ve used to describe that desire is totally new to me and (in my experience,) it’s unique to this relationship.
I don’t just want him — I want to consume him. I want to get inside him. I want to get under his skin and feel him from the inside. I want to crawl around in his head and pull his thoughts apart to see how they work. I want to take him to pieces so I can put him back together again in some way that’s more suitable for me. After all, if I can put him back together again, he’ll be my creation and he’ll be mine(?!).
But it’s not really about the destruction. It’s more about consumption. Of course, it’s difficult to consume something without destroying it, but that’s a digression for another time.
Consumption is at the center of Lacan’s explanation of desire, and yet, consuming the object petit never fully satisfies, it always leaves some dissonance that will never be resolved. And that? That is desire. The want for something that can’t ever be fully possessed.
As much as I eschew binaries (everything exists on a continuum — “purity” is mythos), I can’t help but admit the theoretical underpinnings (of the model) of D/s is binary opposition. I guess our fundamental understandings of almost everything are set up within binaries — we always/already define the self by what it is not and we define the self in opposition to (and by default, in coordination with) the “other.” I often define dominance by what it is not. I define myself as what I am not… by what is other.
Taken together, I can only posit that seemingly opposite positions on the spectrum (of D/s) combined with my encoding personal experience as the want to “consume” is my own attempt at “eating the other.”
Since consumption isn’t possible, my attempt at possessing the “other” ends up in mutilation, in destruction. Perhaps that’s why practitioners of BDSM — the dominants and the tops — “hurt” their submissives/bottoms. We cannot possess, so we “destroy.”
J (or whatever he represents) is some version of the objet petit (if I may further mutilate Lacan) because I want something in J that is more than him. He holds the theoretical promise of fulfilled desires that will never be realistically fulfilled. The upside is that desire can’t be fulfilled, which means I’ll always want more.
2. Yes, I’ve just thrown bell hooks head first into Lacan. So? See item 1, above.