"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.