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Demand

From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis
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French: demande

Jacques Lacan

Early Work

Lacan begins to use the term "demand" in 1958.


In the seminar of 1956-7, Lacan argues that the cry of the human infant -- its call (l'appel) to the mother -- is not merely an instinctual signal but is "inserted in a synchronic world of cries organized in a symbolic system."[1]

In other words, the infant's screams become organized in a linguistic structure long before the child is capable of articulating recognizable words.

Need, Demand and Desire

It is the symbolic nature of the infant's screams which forms the kernel of Lacan's concept of demand, which Lacan introduces in 1958 in the context of his distinction between need, demand and desire.

Articulation of Need

Lacan argues that since the infant is incapable of performing the specific actions that would satisfy its biological needs, it must articulate those needs in vocal form (demands) so that another (the mother) will perform the specific action instead.

The primary example of such a biological need is hunger, which the child articulates in a scream (demand) so that the mother will feed it.

Demand for the Other's Love

However, because the object]] which satisfies the child's need is provided by another, it takes on the added significance of being a proof of the Other's love.

Accordingly demand too acquires a double function: in addition to articualting a need, it also becomes a demand for love.

And just as the symbolic function of the object as a proof of love overshadows its real function as that which satisfies a need, so too the symbolic dimension of demand (as a demand for love) eclipses its real function (as an articulation of need).

Desire

It is this double function which gives birth to desire, since while the needs which demand articulates may be satisfied, the craving for love is unconditional and insatiable, and hence persists as a leftover even after the needs have been satisfied; this leftover constitutes desire.

Helplessness

Demand is thus intimately linked to the human subject's initial helplessness.

By forcing the analysand to express himself entirely in speech, the psychoanalytic situation puts him back in the position of the helpless infant, thus encouraging regression.

"Through the mediation of the demand, the whole past opens up right to early infancy. The subject has never done anything other than demand, he could not have survived otherwise, an we just follow on from there."[2]

Analysand

However, while the speech of the analysand is itself already a demand (for a reply), this demand is underpinned by deeper demands (to be cured, to be revealed to himself, to become an analyst).[3]

Analyst

The question of how the analyst engages with these demands is crucial.

Certainly the analyst does not attempt to gratify the analysand's demands, but nor is it simply a question of frustrating them.

Development

In 1961, Lacan rethinks the various stages of libidinal organisation as forms of demand.

The oral phase of development is constituted by a demand (made by the subject) to be fed (which is a demand made by the subject).

In the anal stage, on the other hand, it is not a question of the subject's demand, but the demand of the Other (the parent who disciplines the child in potty-training).[4]

In both of these pregenital stages the satisfaction of demand eclipses desire; only in the genital stage does desire comes to be fully constituted.[5]

See Also

References

  1. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La relation d'objet, 19566-57. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 182, 188
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 254
  3. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 254
  4. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre VIII. Le transfert, 1960-61. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 238-46, 269
  5. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre VIII. Le transfert, 1960-61. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 270