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French: manque

Translator's Note

"Manque" is translated here as "lack", except in the expression, created by Lacan, "manque-à-être", for which Lacan himself has proposed the English neologism "want-to-be".

Lack and Desire

The term "lack" is always related, in Lacan's teaching, to desire. It is a lack which causes desire to arise.[1] However, the precise nature of what is lacking varies over the course of Lacan's work.

Lack of Being

When the term first appears, in 1955, lack designates first and foremost a lack of being. What is desired is being itself.

Desire is a relation of being to lack. The lack is the lack of being properly speaking. It isn't the lack of this or that, but lack of being whereby the being exists."[2]

Lacan returns to this theme in 1958, when he argues that desire is the metonymy of the lack of being (manque à être).[3] The subject's lack of being is "the heart of the analytic experience" and "the very field in which the neurotic's passion is deployed.[4] Lacan contrasts the lack of being, which relates to desire, with the lack of having (manque à avoir), which relates to demand.[5]

Lack of an Object

In 1956, lack comes to designate the lack of an object. Lacan distinguishes between three kinds of lack, according to the nature of the object which is lacking, as shown in the figure below.[6]

Table of three types of lack of object
Real father Symbolic castration Imaginary phallus
Symbolic mother Imaginary frustration Real breast
Imaginary father Real privation Symbolic phallus

Of these three forms of lack, castration is the most important from the point of view of analytic experience, and the term "lack" tends to become synonymous with castration.

In 1957, when Lacan introduces the algebraic symbol for the barred Other (A), lack comes to designate the lack of a signifier in the Other. Lacan introduces the symbol S(A) to designate "the signifier of a lack in the Other." No matter how many signifiers one adds to the signifying chain, the chain is always incomplete; it always lacks the signifier that could complete it. This "missing signifier" (written -1 in Lacanian algebra) is constitutive of the subject.

See Also


  1. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre VIII. Le transfert, 1960-61. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 139
  2. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. p. 223
  3. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 259; translated by Sheridan as "want-to-be"
  4. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 251
  5. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 730
  6. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La relation d'objet, 19566-57. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 269