From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis
Jump to: navigation, search

The term 'demand' (French: demande) is elaborated by Jacques Lacan in opposition to need and desire.

Jacques Lacan introduces the concept of demand in opposition to need and desire]].

Jacques Lacan posits a distinction between need, demand and desire.

Demand and Speech

Demand is addressed to the Other.


In the 1956-7 seminar, Object Relations Lacan addresses the call (l'appel or cri) of an infant to the mother.[1]

The screams of the infant become organized in a linguistic structure . The cry "is inserted in a synchronic world of cries organised in a symbolic system."[2]

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

The human infant cannot satisfy its own biological needs.

The infant must articulate those needs verbally.

For example: the infant articulates hunger, a biological need, in a scream so that the mother will feed it.

The object which satisfies need (provided by another) also signifies the Other's love.

The demand that articulates a biological need becomes a demand for love.

The symbolic function of the demand (as a demand for love) overshadows its real function as an articulation of need.

The function of demand as an articulation of need becomes overshadows by its symbolic function (as a demand for love).

The biological need that demand articulates can be satisfied. The demand for love is insatiable. The demand for love persists as a leftover even after the biological needs have been satisfied. This leftover constitutes desire.

Analytic Treatment

The speech or discourse of the analysand is itself already a demand.[3]

The analysand articulates him or herself entirely in speech. The analysand occupies the position of helplessness, that of the helpless infant. The psychoanalytic situation thus encourags regression. Through the mediation of the demand, the whole past opens up right down to early infancy. The analyst must engage with the demands of the analysand. He or she must not gratify the demands of the analysand, nor can he or she frustrate them.


Demand arises only from speech. Demand is addressed to someone. Demand is only implicit. Demand is related to a need for love, but also to desire. Demand does not need to be sustained by any real object.

Demand deprives the demand of its satisfaction. Demand arises when a lack in the Real becomes articulates in the symbolic medium of language.

Demand, like parapraxes or slips of the tongue, express unconscious signifying formations.

Desire is leftover from the demand.

The Real cannot be symbolized.

The leftover represents a lost surplus of jouissance for the subject.

"Don't give me what I ask for, that's not it."

The object of demand is a fantasy object, what is lacking in the unconscious Other.

The function of the object is to make the demand of the subject and the demand of the Other coincide.

Demand, although it is tied to both the symbolic and the real, is primarily imaginary, and thus most closely related to the body.

The symbolic function of the object as a proof of love overshadows its real function as that which satisfies a need.

The concept of demand is not Freudian. It was developed by Jacques Lacan, who linked it with need and desire (Lacan, 1966, 1991). Demand is identifiable by the five clinical traits that constitute it, by the status that it gives the object, by its function in relation to the Other, and finally by its topological register.

Regarding demand, we can say that 1) it arises only from speech; 2) it is addressed to someone; 3) it is nevertheless only implicit; 4) it is related to a need for love, but also to desire; 5) it does not need to be sustained by any real object.

The object of demand is what is lacking in the unconscious Other, and thus it is only a fantasmic object. Its function is to satisfy the drive and to make the demand of the subject and the demand of the Other coincide. Although it is tied to both the symbolic and the real, the register of demand is primarily imaginary, and thus most closely related to the body.

Before outlining more recent perspectives on demand, we must return to what Lacan said about it in relation to oral, anal, and genital regions of the body that serve as the sources of demand.

The oral demand calls for an inverse response, such that the other's answer to the imperative "feed me" is "let yourself be fed." This inversion becomes a source of discord or even of destructive urges. To whom is the demand addressed? To the Other, and not the mother. It is addressed to the Other that separates the demand from a desire. And that desire, in turn, deprives the demand of its satisfaction. Thus the demand becomes a non-demand. The dream of the "beautiful butcher's wife," as reported by Freud, is a perfect example of this. What is the object of her desire to define? It is a cannibalistic object. This desire is directed towards the nourishing body, an organic unconscious object through which the demand's relation to the Other can be sexualized. This libidinization, "which is nothing but surplus," deprives the need of its gratification. The function of desire, which sustains all demand, is in turn maintained in it and thus preserved. Desire can be recognized in the field of speech by the negation with which it originates: this, and not that!

The original oral relation between the mother and her child is constantly fed by a kind of hostility in which each one is convinced, at the imaginary level, of being "bawled out" by the other. Donald Winnicott (1974) emphasizes moreover that the object is so good, so exciting—that it bites. Consultations with mothers and children always show this.

At the anal stage, need reigns supreme; but while demand sets out to restrain need, desire wants to expel it. The one is entrusted with satisfying it, while the other is determined to control it. In the end, this control is legitimated only by turning need into a gift expected by an other, who is always primordially the mother. The oblation of this exonerating gift is metonymic. In order to evacuate the gift of symbolic desire, the one who gives it (child, student, or citizen, for example) could well adopt the slogan "everything for the other" in reference to the one who expects it (the mother, the teacher, or an authority figure)—this is true enough in the voting booth, at any rate. Such a gift is not produced by the one who gives it: someone else is the producer, someone who is able to wait for it only as long as the giver is suffering. It is not that the gift is necessarily painful in itself; the reaction of the one who receives it is the determining factor in that respect. So that her expectations will not be in vain, the mother eroticizes her relation with the child. She makes the child a sexual partner, involved in a fantasy in which he becomes the imaginary phallic object. In the end, the child will have been forced to do the only thing it was able to do. This was how the sadomasochistic economy was described by Freud, who took the symbolic equivalence of penis, feces, and child as his starting point.

How do we recognize an obsessional neurosis? By a declared conflict between demand and desire, satisfaction and discipline, need and legitimacy, gift and exoneration. The outcome of this conflict can only be a resignation to suffering. The characteristic "it could have been worse" attitude alludes to the masochistic jouissance that the obsessional derives from it, while "You had that coming" sums up the sadistic expectation of the other, who is without doubt the father—when it comes to need, he's always too much.

At the genital stage, demand seeks out a real partner. A repressed demand returns in the field of sexuality, and it will be satisfied only by a real engagement—one the subject wants to wait for, since he or she intends to bring it about. Thus the demand is based on the primacy of a sexual desire that is certainly sustained by a need, but that emphasizes a real lack in the other. Far from realizing desire, this lack constantly renews it. "The subject does not know what he desires most," either from the other or in terms of his own lack. From then on, the "something else" that originates from this lack of knowledge is related to a desire that is deceived. It is deceived if it believes itself to be lacking only the other, the missing half that is but a shadow from the past.

Taking the concept of transitivism as their point of departure, Gabriel Balbo and Jean Bergès (1996) have reconceptualized the analysis of demand. For them, demand cannot be conceived independently of the infant's identification with the discourse that the mother expresses in response the baby's cries, smiles, gurgling, and gestures. There is a double division at work here. The mother's own discourse, which she puts in the mouth of her child, divides the mother into a bodily, experienced real demand in contrast to what she expresses. The child is also divided from its own real demand by identifying with whatever part of that demand the mother expresses. This double division, with its consequent double repression, has an organizing influence on the ego, the status of the object, body image, the infant's jubilation at its own specular image, and the I. All processes of identification must be rethought in these terms, while at the same time demand and identification are also the origin of no less a dualism than that of life and death.

Such an analysis allows one to rethink the demand for an analysis, the preliminary interviews, the analytic contract, the direction and conduct of the treatment, and ultimately the transference. This reconceptualization reaches the very core of the discursive framework, and the analysis of dreams as well as the patient's speech is determined by it.


See Also

Graph of Desire; Metonymy; Neurosis; Object a; Other, the; Subject of the unconscious; Symbolic, the (Lacan); Topology; Unary trait; Wish/yearning. Bibliography


  1. Lacan, Jacques. Object Relations. La relation d'objet et les structures freudiennes. p.182
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Object Relations. La relation d'objet et les structures freudiennes. p.188
  3. E, 254
  • demand, 154-6, 209, 235, 269, 271, 273-4,278</ref>
  • The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Ed. J.-A. Miller. Trans. A. Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press, 1977.
  • Lacan, Jacques. (1966 [2002]).Écrits. Paris: Seuil. Écrits: A selection. (Bruce Fink, Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Lacan, Jacques. (1991). Le Séminaire-livre VIII, le transfert (1960-61). Paris: Seuil.
  • Lacan, Jacques. (1966 [2002]).Écrits. Paris: Seuil.Écrits: A selection. (Bruce Fink, Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton.
  • ——.(1991). Le Séminaire-livre VIII, le transfert (1960-61). Paris: Seuil.

Demand, 126
language and, 92
Other and, 126