Subject, Object, and Drive

The journey of the human subject takes place between the biological drives and the social demands of the other which come through the semiotic form of ritual, law and language. The human animal unable to survive from preprogrammed instinct is dependent on the desire of the other to create and sustain him. Thus the social world comes to take on a primary role in structuring the experience of a human being. Subjectivity refers to inner experience as opposed to the external objectivity of things. We act upon objects but act from our subjectivity. As we are acted upon as objects we nevertheless subjectively experience.

Object relations which form the basis of our early infantile experience according to psychoanalysts perhaps still describe the infantile state of our social relations. The position of humans as objects of a group – whether in nomadic animal survivalism or religious and tribal ritual – has always taken precedence over subjectivity. The development of social movements such as democracy and communism attempted to establish a subjective precedence in social dynamics, yet still today most of our behaviors are dictated by primitive object relations.

Freud invented a theory and practice of the subject by taking seriously the inner experience of the patient through discourse. By listening to the performative speech act of the patient, Freud reversed the power dynamic of medicine where the ideology of science and/or the doctor is applied to the patient as object-body. He placed the power in the patient to express his experience through semiotics. I stress semiotic for ultimately the exchange includes more than symbolized language but ultimately an invention of new semiotic signs incorporating body, speech, image, gesture, time, space and other variables. It is to the degree that each analytic act can be reinvented for itself that it ultimately becomes more successful than an overdetermined cognitive, behavioral, or ego psychology – or in fact any psychoanalysis that proscribes.

Freud stumbled upon the impasse of the social reflected in “Civilization and Its Discontents” when he posed the question of whether a whole community could be ill – and whether psychoanalysis was not flawed in seeking to restore the individual to society. He did not live to solve this problem. Lacan too reached the same impasse – unsatisfied as he was with either neurotic accommodation to the social norm, or the psychotic foreclosure from the symbolic order. Is neurosis but a variation of normopathic adaptation to the other. Is normality but the majority version of neurosis in any given world. Thus we are left with the question of whether or not there is another relation between individual and social – between object and subject.

For Lacan this other way was the artist – epitomized by James Joyce. His concept of the sinthome paved the way for a new concept of analysis: making a name for oneself where one is not provided – or where that which is provided is insufficient. The family – that which is familiar – is necessary but insufficient. The extended kinship of the group locks subjectivity into a role. The nuclear family tries to follow with an individual myth for the neurotic subject. It is insufficient in so many cases where a passage from drive to symbolic pact is tenuous. It is doubly insufficient, for even were this to function today it is but a reduplication of the object-oriented commodity fetishism and petty concerns ofcontemporary life, devoid of any symbolic myth which can transmute the power of the drive into a sufficient semiotic of exchange. As opposed to this the sinthome – the saint man – is both inside and outside the community: of the social but not reduced to it he continues to challenge it to mutate – like our symptom which is both of us and not us – something of the unconscious, the drive, the uncontained in the symbolic determination of meaning. To be the artist of our life is to dare to invent the categorical imperative where there is none – to act in the void.