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Desire: Drive = Truth: Knowledge
By Slavoj Zizek

As Jacques-Alain Miller has pointed out, the concept of "constructions in analysis" does not rely on the (dubious) claim that the analyst is always right (if the patient accepts the analyst's proposed construction, that's straightforward confirmation of its correctness; if the patient rejects it, this is a sign of resistance which, consequently, again confirms that the construction has touched on the truth); the point, rather, is the obverse - "the analysand is always, by definition, in the wrong." In order to get this point, one should focus on the crucial distinction between construction and its counterpart, interpretation, correlative to the couple knowledge/ truth. That is to say, an interpretation is a gesture that is always embedded in the intersubjective dialectic of recognition between the analysand and the analyst, it aims at bringing about the effect of truth apropos of some particular formation of the unconscious (a dream, a symptom, a slip of tongue). The subject is expected to "recognize" himself in the signification proposed by the interpreter, precisely to subjectivize it, to assume the proposed signification as "his own" (Yes, my God, that's me, I really wanted this). The very success of interpretation is measured by this "effect of truth," by the extent to which it affects the subjective position of the analysand (stirring up memories of the hitherto deeply repressed traumatic encounters, provoking violent resistance). In clear contrast to it, a construction (exemplarily, that of a fundamental fantasy) has the status of a knowledge which can never be subjectivized, assumed by the subject as the truth about himself, the truth in which he recognizes the innermost kernel of his being. A construction is a purely logical explanatory presupposition, like the second stage (I am being beaten by my father) of the child's fantasy "A child is being beaten" which, as Freud emphasizes, is so radically unconscious that it cannot ever be remembered:

This second phase is the most important and the most momentous of all. But we may say that in a certain sense it has never had a real existence. It is never remembered, it has never succeeded in becoming conscious. It is a construction of analysis, but it is no less a necessity on that account. (1)

The fact that this phase "never had a real existence," of course, indexes the status of the Lacanian real; the knowledge we have of this phase is a "knowledge in the real," i.e., it is an "acephalic," non-subjectivized knowledge. Although (or, rather, for the very reason that) it is a kind of "Thou art that!" which articulates the very kernel of the subject's being, its assumption "desubjectivizes" me, i.e., I can only assume my fundamental fantasy insofar as I undergo what Lacan calls "subjective destitution." Or, to put it in yet another way, interpretation and construction stand to each other like symptom and fantasy: symptoms are to be interpreted, the fundamental fantasy is to be (re)constructed. This notion of "acephalic" knowledge emerges rather late in Lacan's teaching, after the relationship between knowledge and truth underwent a profound shift in the early seventies.

In the "early" phase, from the 1940s to the 1960s, Lacan moves within the coordinates of the standard philosophical opposition between "inauthentic" objectifying knowledge which disregards the subject's position of enunciation, and the "authentic" truth by which one is existentially engaged, affected. In the psychoanalytic clinic, this opposition is perhaps best exemplified by the clear contrast between obsessional neurosis and hysteria. The obsessional neurotic "lies in the guise of truth." At the level of factual accuracy, his statements are as a rule true, yet he uses factual accuracy to dissimulate the truth about his desire. When, for example, my enemy has a car accident because of a brake malfunction, I go to great lengths to explain to everyone that I was never near his car and am therefore not responsible for the malfunction. While this is true, this "truth" is propagated by me to conceal the fact that the accident realized my desire. On the contrary, the hysteric "tells the truth in the guise of a lie;" the truth of my desire articulates itself in the very distortions of the "factual accuracy" of my speech. When, instead of "I hereby open this session," I say "I hereby close this session," my desire clearly reveals itself. The aim of the psychoanalytic treatment is thus to (re)focus attention from factual accuracy to hysterical lies which unknowingly articulate the truth, and then to progress to a new knowledge which dwells at the place of truth, to a knowledge which, instead of dissimulating truth, gives rise to truth-effects, i.e. to what the Lacan of the fifties called "full speech," the speech in which subjective truth reverberates. This notion of truth, of course, belongs to a long tradition, from Kierkegaard to Heidegger, of despising mere "factual truth."

Beginning in the late sixties, however, Lacan focuses his attention more and more on drive as a kind of "acephalic" knowledge which brings about satisfaction. This knowledge involves no inherent relation to truth, no subjective position of enunciation - not because it dissimulates the subjective position of enunciation, but because it is in itself nonsubjectivized, or ontologically prior to the very dimension of truth (of course, the term ontological becomes thereby problematic, since ontology is by definition a discourse on truth). Truth and knowledge are thus related as desire and drive: interpretation aims at the truth of the subject's desire (the truth of desire is the desire for truth, as one is tempted to put it in a pseudo-Heideggerian way), while construction provides know- ledge about drive. Is not the paradigmatic case of such an "acephalic" knowledge provided by modern science (2) which exemplifies the "blind insistence" of the (death) drive? Modern science follows its path (in microbiology, in manipulating genes, in particle physics) heedless of cost - satisfaction is here provided by knowledge itself, not by any moral or communal goals scientific knowledge is supposed to serve. All the "ethical committees" which abound today and attempt to establish rules for the proper conduct of gene-manipulation, of medical experiments, etc. - are they ultimately not desperate attempts to reinscribe this inexorable drive-progress of science which knows of no inherent limitation (in short: this inherent ethic of the scientific attitude) within the confines of human goals, to provide it with a "human face," a limitation? The commonplace wisdom today is that "our extraordinary power to manipulate nature through scientific devices has run ahead of our faculty to lead a meaningful existence, to make human use of this immense power." Thus, the properly modern ethics of "following the drive" clashes with traditional ethics whereby one is instructed to live one's life according to standards of proper measure and to subordinate all its aspects to some all-encompassing notion of the Good. The problem is, of course, that no balance between these two notions of ethics can ever be achieved. The notion of reinscribing scientific drive into the constraints of the life-world is fantasy at its purest - perhaps the fundamental fascist fantasy. Any limitation of this kind is utterly foreign to the inherent logic of science - science belongs to the real and, as a mode of the real of jouissance, it is indifferent to the modalities of its symbolization, to the way it will affect social life.

Of course, the concrete organization of the scientific apparatus, up to its most abstract conceptual schemas, is socially "mediated," but the whole game of discerning a patriarchal, Eurocentric, mechanistic, nature-exploiting bias to modern science "does not really concern science", the drive which effectuates itself in the operation of the scientific machine. Heidegger's position seems here utterly ambiguous; perhaps, it is all too easy to dismiss him as the most sophisticated proponent of the thesis that science a priori misses the dimension of truth. Didn't he claim that "science doesn't think," i.e. that it is by definition unable to reflect its own philosophical foundation, the hermeneutic horizon of its functioning, and, furthermore, that this incapacity, far from playing the role of an impediment, is a positive condition of possibility of its smooth functioning? His crucial point is rather that modern science, as such, cannot be reduced to some limited, ontical, "socially conditioned" option (expressing the interests of a certain social group, etc.), but is rather the real of our historical moment, that which "remains the same" in all possible ("progressive" and "reactionary," "technocratic" and "ecological," "patriarchal" and "feminist") symbolic universes. Heidegger is thus well aware that all fashionable "critiques of science" according to which science is a tool of Western capitalist domination, of patriarchal oppression, etc., fall short and thus leave unquestioned the "hard kernel" of the scientific drive. Lacan obliges us to add that science is perhaps "real" in an even more radical sense: it is the first (and probably unique) case of a discourse that is strictly "nonhistorical" even in the Heideggerian sense of the historicity of the epochs of Being, i.e. epochs whose functioning is inherently indifferent to the historically determined horizons of the disclosure of Being. Precisely insofar as science "doesn't think," it "knows", ignoring the dimension of truth, and is as such drive at its purest. Lacan's supplement to Heidegger would thus be: why should this utter "forgetting of Being" at work in modern science be perceived only as the greatest "danger? Does it not contain also a "liberating" dimension? Is not the suspension of ontological Truth in the unfettered functioning of science already a kind of "passing through" and "getting over" the metaphysical closure?

Within psychoanalysis, this knowledge of drive which can never be subjectivized assumes the form of knowledge of the subject's "fundamental fantasy," the specific formula which regulates his or her access to jouissance. That is to say, desire and jouissance are inherently antagonistic, exclusive even: desire's raison d'etre (or "utility function," to use Richard Dawkins's term) is not to realize its goal, to find full satisfaction, but to reproduce itself as desire. How is it possible nonetheless to couple desire and jouissance, to guarantee a minimum of jouissance within the space of desire? This is made possible by the famous Lacanian object a that mediates between the incompatible domains of desire and jouissance. In what precise sense is object a the object-cause of desire? Object a is not what we desire, what we are after, but rather that which sets our desire in motion, the formal frame that confers consistency on our desire. Desire is of course metonymical, it shifts from one object to another; through all its displacements, however, desire nonetheless retains a minimum of formal consistency, a set of fantasmatic features which, when encountered in a positive object, insures that we will come to desire this object. Object a, as the cause of desire, is nothing but this formal frame of consistency. In a slightly different way, the same mechanism regulates the subject's falling in love: the automatism of love is set in motion when some contingent, ultimately indifferent (libidinal) object finds itself occupying a pre-given fantasy place. This role of fantasy in the automatic emergence of love hinges on the fact that "there is no sexual relationship," no universal formula or matrix guaranteeing a harmonious sexual relationship with the partner. Because of the lack of this universal formula, every individual has to invent a fantasy of his own, a "private" formula far the sexual relationship; for a man, a relationship with a woman is possible only inasmuch as she fits his formula. The formula of the Wolfman, Freud's famous patient, consisted of "a woman, viewed from behind, on her hands and knees, and washing or cleaning something on the ground in front of her"; the view of a woman in this position automatically gave rise to love. John Ruskin's formula, which followed the model of old Greek and Roman statues, led to a tragicomic disappointment when, in the course of his wedding night, Ruskin caught sight of pubic hair not found on the statues. This discovery made him totally impotent, since he was convinced that his wife was a monster.

Recently, Slovene feminists reacted with outrage at the publicity poster for a sun lotion, depicting a series of well-tanned women's behinds in tight bathing suits, accompanied by the slogan "Each has her own factor." Of course, this ad campaign was based on a rather vulgar double entendre: the slogan ostensibly refers to the sun lotion which is offered to customers with different sun factors to fit different kinds of skin; however, its effect is based on the obvious male-chauvinist reading: "Each woman can be had, if only the man knows her factor, her specific catalyst, what arouses her!" The Freudian point about fundamental fantasy would be that each subject, female or male, possesses such a "factor" which regulates her or his desire: "a woman, viewed from behind, on her hands and knees" was the Wolfman's factor; a statue-like woman without pubic hair was Ruskin's factor; etc., etc. There is nothing uplifting about our awareness of this "factor": this awareness can never be subjectivized, it is uncanny, horrifying even, since it somehow "depossesses" the subject, reducing her or him to a puppet-like level "beyond dignity and freedom."

(1) Sigmund Freud, "A Child Is Being Beaten," Standard Edition, vol. 10, p. 185.

(2) see Jacques-Alain Miller, "Savoir et satisfaction," in La Cause freudienne 33, Paris 1996.