In La relation d'objet Lacan provided a way of understanding the paradoxical function of transference in the analytical cure. In its symbolic aspect (repetition) it helps the cure progress by revealing the signifiers of the subject's history. He argues that in its imaginary aspect (love and hate) it acts as a resistance. He uses Plato's The Symposium to illustrate the rapport between analysand and analyst: Alcibiades compares Socrates to a box enclosing a precious object, agalma. Just as Alcibiades attributes a hidden treasure to Socrates, so too the patient sees his object of desire in the analyst. Lacan articulates the objet a with agalma, the object of desire we seek in the other.
Before, the emphasis was placed on repetition, now it is placed on transference love, amour de transfert: both are inseparable, but the perspective changes. To insist on repetition means to refuse to see in the analytic situation an intersubjective rapport to be dealt with here and now. What speech constructed in the past can be deconstructed in the cure by speech: the cure is "pure symbolic experience." On the individual level, it allows for "the reshaping of the imaginary," on the theorethical level for an intersubjective logic to be constructed. Thus, analysis is described as a particular experience of desire, on the side of sexuality. Speech has an effect only after transference. For Lacan "it is from the position that transference bestows the analyst with that he intervenes in transference itself," and "transference is interpreted on the basis of and with the aid of transference itself." In "The direction of the treatment and the principles of its power" (Écrits: A Selection) Lacan presented countertransference as a resistance of the analyst and raised the problem of the analyst's desire. Here, subjective disparity becomes the rule establishing dissymmetry between the two protagonists vis-à-vis desire: what the patient will discover through the disappointment of transference love. Because in the cure one learns to talk instead of making love, in the end desire, which has been purified, is but the empty place where the barred subject accesses desire. We should note that training analysis does not put the analyst beyond passion; to believe that it does would mean that all passions stem from the unconscious, a notion that Lacan rejects. The better analysed the analyst is, the more likely he is to be in love with, or be quite repulsed by, the analysand. In training-analysis there will be a mutation in the economy of desire in the analyst-to-be: desire will be restructured, so that it will be stronger than passions. Lacan calls it the desire proper to the analyst.
In The Symposium the analyst's position is identified with Socrates', while Alcibiades occupies the position of the analysand, who after Socrates will discover himself desiring. "To isolate oneself with another so as to teach him what he is lacking and, by the nature of transference, he will learn what he is lacking insofar as he loves: I am not here for his Good, but for him to love me, and for me to disappoint him."
Alcibiades desires because he presumes Socrates is in possession of the agalma - the phallus as desirable. But Socrates refuses the position of loved object to assert himself as desiring. For Lacan desire never occurs between two subjects but between a subject and an overvalorized being who has fallen to the state of an object. The only way to discover the other as subject is "to recognize that he speaks an articulated language and responds to ours with his own combinations; the other cannot fit into our calculations as someone who coheres like us." Socrates, by shying away from Alcibiades' declaration, by refusing to mask his lack with a fetish, and by showing him Agathon as the true object of his love, shows the analyst how to behave: such is the other aspect of "subjective disparity" taking place in analysis. There is no rapport between what the one possesses and what the other lacks. The phallus, from being objet a, the imaginary object, emerges as the signifier of signifiers, as "the only signifier that deserves the role of symbol. It designates the real presence that permits identification, the origin of the Ideal-of-the-Ego on the side of the Other." There is a woman in The Symposium, Diotima, who speaks in the form of myth. In the fable where female lack is confronted with male resources, the feminine first has an active role before the desirable masculine. The reversal occurs because in love one only gives what one does not have: the masculine, by shying away from the demand, is revealed as a subject of desire. Later, Lacan would make Socrates the model of hysterical discourse, but also of analytic discourse because he attains the knowledge, the episteme, of love.
Having managed to provoke "a mutation in the economy of his desire," the analyst has access both to the unconscious and to the experience of the unconscious because, like Socrates, he has confronted the desire for death and achieved the "between-two-deaths" - entre-deux-morts. Having placed the signifier in the position of the absolute, he has abolished "fear and trembling." "One puts one's desire aside so as to preserve what is the most precious, the phallus, the symbol of desire." Desire is only its empty place.