desire

"Once the imagination has been excluded from experience as unreal, and its place has been taken by the ego cogito, the status of desire changes radically: it becomes essentially insatiable." "The expulsion of imagination from the sphere of experience sunders what Eros united in himself: desire and need, in such a way that they cannot coincide in the same subject." (Giorgio Agamben, Infancy and History, p.26)

Freud's use of the word Wunsch, which corresponds to 'wish' does not have the same connotations as the English word 'desire" or the French désir . His clearest elucidation of the concept is in the theory of dreams. Freud does not identify need with desire. Need can be satisfied through the action which procures the adequate object. (eg. food) Wishes, on the other hand, are governed by a relationship with signs, with memory-traces of excitation, and the desire to re-cathect mnemic images. The Freudian conception of desire refers above all to unconscious wishes, bound to indestructible infantile signs, organized as phantasy.

Freud's analysis of hysteria showed how hysterics have taken their imagination for reality, and, more fundamentally, how they have translated -- according to specific laws of transposition -- their desire into reality. Their own desire to seduce the father has been translated, in inverse form, into an actual scene of seduction by the father. Freud also compared hysterical symptoms to monuments erected to commemorate events. Thus Anna O.'s symptoms are "mnemic symbols" of the illness and death of her father.

Freud has been criticized for renouncing the seduction theory -- which recognized a reality to parental seduction -- and for reducing the realm of desire to the interior realm of the self and the family.

narcissism and desire:
Narcissus expired through his delusory desire "because he could not lay hold of himself, and yet perceived himself as other. (Ovid) Jacques Lacan's theory of the mirror stage follows both Ovid and Freud in stressing the basically narcissistic relation of the subject to his counterpart, the specular ego. In this way Lacan also sets up the erotic attraction or aggressive tension as a relation to a counterpart ("another who is me"), who can only exist because the ego is originally another. (See " Imaginary" in Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis) The collapse into the self enacted by Narcissus is transformed for prototypically narcissistic female subjects into a fundamentally alienated relationship to her external image.


lack and desire:
In a tradition that reaches from Plato to Lacan and beyond, desire has been understood as negative, abyssal, a lack at the level of ontology itself (this was most clearly articulated in Hegel's understanding of the lack [of the object] of desire being the necessary condition for the maintenance of desire), a lack in being that strives to be filled through the (impossible) attainment of an object. Lacan calls this lack un manque-à-être a "want-to-be" (or a wannabe ?)

For Georg Simmel, "the possibility of desire is the possibility of objects of desire." (The Philosophy of Money, p. 66) For Simmel enjoyment is a unity similar to the state prior to the differentiation of subject and object. With the observation that "our mind has a remarkable ability to think of contents as being independent of the act of thinking, he observes that "In desiring what we do not yet own or enjoy, we place the content of our desire outselves....We desire objects only if they are not immediately given to us for our use and enjoyment; that is, to the extent that they resist our desire." Value is characterized by this separation, which takes the form of a claim or demand. The purpose of establishing a distance is that it should be overcome. Withdrawal and approach are the two sides of our relationship to objects, which we call subjectively our desire and objectively their value. For Simmel, aesthetic value is the most complete projection of our feelings. "The content of the feeling is, as it were, absorbed by the object and confronts the subject as something which has autonomous significance, which is inherent in the object." (p.73)

Immanuel Kant sought to separate aesthetics from desire (as well as concepts). For Kant, disinterest lies at the core of aesthetics, and while enjoyment of the pleasant may satisfy specific desires, the core of aesthetics is a freedom from desire.

Contemporary theorists have tried to reconceptualize desire in positive terms. Feminists have objected to the association of lack with the feminine, (eg. the Freudian interpretation of womens' genitals) of the phallus as the unique symbol of desire, (and power) such that desire in women can only appear as envy. Jessica Benjamin links the intersubjective realm of the holding environment and transitional experience to the experience of inner self, which she sees as enabling the experience of women's desire. ("A Desire of One's Own, in Teresa de Lauretis, ed. Feminist Studies / Critical Studies) (see pscho-sexual space)

Desire and Philosophy:

The bulk of the Western tradition has sustained skepticism towards the philosophical possibilities of desire. To desire the world and to know its meanings and structures have seemed conflicting enterprises. But when philosophy interrogates its own possibilities as engaged or practical knowledge, it tends to ask after the philosophical potential of desire. In moral actions, the relation between subject and object is completely different from that of theoretical knowledge, for the desire to realize the good produces its own objects.

Spinoza and Kant admitted desire to philosophy, and both developed a philosophy of psychic integration between reason and desire. If the philosopher is not beyond desire, then (s)he is a being of rational desire who knows what he wants and wants what he knows. (Judith Butler) For Kant, the good is the object of will (i.e. a faculty of desire determined by reason. (Critique of Judgement, p.43)

Kant was convinced that the human mind has a natural desire to be reminded of the fact that it is possessed of the faculty of Reason. Although we commonly think of desire as having for its object a natural object, possession of which is desired. Kant held that there is another quite different kind of desire, viz. , the desire to realize the good. (see H.W. Cassirer, A Commentary on Kant's Critique of Judgement, p 125)

This moral and self-fufilling form of desire is echoed in contemporary writers such as Rosi Braidotti. She calls the "desi re for philosophy" a will to know that is fundamentally affective -- a love of, and desire for, higher knowledge. Braidotti attributes this form of desire to both Gilles Deleuze and Luce Iragaray "...Not just libidinal desire, but rather ontological desire, the desire to be.." (Rosi Braidotti, refs. to Lyotard, Le postmodernisme expliqué aux Enfants)

For Gilles Deleuze the affective force, level of intensity, desire, or affirmation conveys ideas and ultimately govern their truth-value. The prephilosophical moment of desire not only is unthought, but remains unthought at the very heart of philosophy, because it is that which sustains the very activity of philosophizing. Braidotti alludes to "the unspeakable desire for thought." "The desire to know is, like all desires, related to the problem of representing one's origins, of answering the most childish and consequently fundamental of questions: "where did I come from?" (Braidotti, Nomadic Subjects, p.90)

Deleuze's notes on Foucault, published by François Rewald under the title "Desire and Pleasure," contain an important definition. Life, Deleuze says, is "desire's variable field of immanence." Given what we know of Deleuzian immanence, this means that the term "life" designates nothing more and nothing less than the immanence of dsire to itself. (Agamben, "Absolute Immanence", p. 235) It is clear that for Deleuze, desire implies neither alterity nor a lack. For Deleuze and Guattari, desire is a process of production. (see desiring machines ) (see also BwO )

Giorgio Agamben asks how it is possible to conceive of absolute immanence in the form of desire. He points to Spinoza's theory of "striving" (conatus )-- the desire to persevere in one's own being -- as a possible answer. For Spinoza, all beings not only persevere in their own Being (vis inertiae ) but desire to do so (vis immanentiae ). The desire to persevere in one's own Being is to desire one's own desire, to constitute oneself as desiring. In conatus desire and Being thus coincide without residue.

In Subjects of Desire, Judith Butler describes the dialectical workings of desire in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, a work that she describes as a Bildungsroman -- a narrative of transformation and actualization, whose "logical motor" is desire itself. Hegel give an account of a philosophical subject that strives to know itself in the external world and in its relations to an Other. Desire, according to Hegel, is the incessant human effort to overcome external differences, a project to become a self-sufficient and self- conscious subject. Human desire articulates the subject's relationship to that which is not itself. It finds satisfaction through the transformation of difference into identity, when a relation to something external to consciousness is discovered to be constitutive of the subject itself. Thus desire is both intentional in that it is always desire of or for a given object or Other, but it is also reflexive in the sense that desire is a modality in which the subject is both discovered and enhanced. Hegel claims that "self-consciousness in general is Desire." (Phenomenology of Spirit, ¶ 167)

desire and other In self-consciousness, desire always reveals the desiring agent as intrinsically other to itself: self consciousness is an ek -static being, outside itself, in search of self-recovery. The internalization of otherness is also the externalization of the subject. Difference threatens the subject with annihilation until the subject can discover that difference as an essential moment of itself. The two moments of assimilation and projection condition the irreducible ambiguity of the emerging identity of the subject. The infinite insatiability of desire requires the endless proliferation of alterity.

In the section on Lordship and Bondage (also called master and slave?) Hegel describes the most challenging encounter of the subject, when "self-consciousness is faced by another self-consciousness." (¶ 179) The first experience of the Other's similarity is that of self-loss. It is a narcissistic project that fails through an inability to recognize the Other's freedom. Self-consiousness can only supersede this otherness to itself when it locates itself in reciprocal recognition, when it recognizes the Other as also in the process of retreiving itself from its own estrangement in desire.

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri call desire the "ontological motor" for the biopolitical practices of being.

Ortega Y Gasset commented that Proust had invented "a new distance between ourselves and things"--a distance modified by attention and imagination, by love and desire. (see also memory)

For the Surrealists, the fluidity of water was also the fluidity of desire opposing the solidity of matter. In their discussion of the french sociologist Gabriel Tardé, Deleuze and Guattari discribe a flow as both belief and desire. (two aspects of every assemblage)"a mutant, convulsive, creative and circulatory flow." (100 Plateaux 217-8)

Maurice Blanchot, analyzing the "objective chance" of Breton's encounter with Nadja, points out that "chance is desire." He recounts the contradiction between an amour in search of an illusory total object, incarnate in woman, (symbol of desirable reality) and a desire which is committed to whatever might respond to it -- including that which maintains it as desire without satisfying it.. for the Surrealists, the city is the place of chance (and magical) encounter. "Ce qui me séduit dans une telle manière de voir, c'est qu'a perte de vue elle est recréatrice de désir" (André Breton, L'Amour Fou)


Desire and the Body:

Desire is based on a veritable cartography of the body, a rewriting of instincts and biological processes into networks of signification and meaning. (cf Freud's theories, elaborated by Laplanche of the drives as propping on the biological instinct, translated as anaclitic for the German Anlehnung .) The erotogenic zones mark those places where vital functions (such as ingesting milk from the breast) become the source of sexual stimulation. For Freud, "There is good reasons why a child sucking at his mother's breast has become the prototype for every relation of love. The finding of an object is in fact a re-finding of it." ("Three Essays on Sexuality) Jean Laplanche points out that a displacement has taken place nonetheless. "The lost object is the object of self-preservation, and the object one seeks to refind in sexuality is an object displaced." (Life and Death in Psychoanalysis, p. 20)

Freud's use of the word "libido," which in Christian usage referred to concupiscence, (desire as cupiditas) expressed a sense of desire, with all the overtones of lust, force, and tension that it injected into psychical life. Freud defined libido in psychoanalysis as "in the first instance the force (thought of as quantitatively variable and measurable) of the sexual instincts directed towards an object -- 'sexual' in the extended sense required by analytic theory." (A Short account of Psychoanalysis, 1924) Freud's quest for his own desire through the prism of his dreams resulted in dreams where the voice of desire could be heard. (Didier Anzieu) Freud sought not to master his dreams (an obssessional defense) but rather to let them give voice to wish. (cf imaginary / symbolic )

For Deleuze and Guattari, "Freud's greatness lies in having determined the essence or nature of desire, no longer in relation to objects, aims, even sources (territories), but as an abstract subjective essence -- libido or sexuality." But they criticize him for relating this essence to the family as "the last territoriality of private man." (Anti-Oedipus, p. 270) For Deleuze and Guattari, Freud sets up "interiority in place of a new relationship with the outside," while they seek to discover "beneath the familial reduction the nature of the social investments of the unconscious." Luce Iragaray criticizes Freud for "falling back on the affirmation that the libido is necessarily male." (This Sex Which is Not One, p. 48) and for "maintaining that there is only one libido, but that in the case of femininity it may put itself in the service of 'passive aims.' "

One might say that Classical Greece was the source of Iragaray's nightmare. According to Michel Foucault, the Greek relation to the body and its pleasures was a completely different model from the Christian relation to flesh and its desires. The Greek view, however, was related to a "virile society" that was unisexual and excluded women. (Plato's account in the Symposium priveleges men seeking their male counterparts.)

In the Anti-Oedipus, subtitled Capitalism and Schizophrenia, volume 1, and first published in 1972, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari engaged in a radical critique of Freudianism.Like their contemporary, R.D. Laing, and like Wilhelm Reich before them, they linked psychic repression with social repression, and sought to recover the revolutionnary quality of desire. For Deleuze and Guattari, desire produces reality , and they attribute to Desiring machines the productive qualities of desire. They also linked the weapon with the production of affect. (see "The War Machine" in Thousand Plateaus ) and this apparent glorification of nomad warfare may account for some of the antipathy which they arouse in feminists.

For the artist Hans Bellmer desire is a multiplier of objects. The body becomes an anagram, producing the reciprocal pleasure of the parts. He is, in Alain Jouffroy's words the "téchnicien de l'impossible" who explored the what Bellmer called the "physical unconscious" -- the body's underlying awareness of itself.

What is the productive role of desire in technological development?
Desire and Time.

How does desire occur in time? "One source of the richness of our emotional repertoire (is) rooted in the possibility of time-indexed desires." (Ronald de Sousa, The Rationality of Emotion, p.100) "These focus on particular moments or stretches of time, making possible more complex forms of rationality and irrationality."

"Only microfascism provides an answer to the global question: Why does desire desire its own repression, how can it desire its own repression?" (Anti-Oedipus, p. 215)