Lacan emphasizes the significance of a child's acquisition of language, considering it as their initiation into the Symbolic Order. Language, being a symbolic system of signification and meaning-making, plays a foundational role in shaping our perceptions of self and others. During this process, we construct essential meanings, such as recognizing ourselves as separate beings ("I" am "me," not "you") and understanding our gender identity (e.g., "I am a girl" or "I am a boy"). Our entry into the Symbolic Order entails a vital experience of separation from the intimate union we once shared with our mother in the Imaginary Order. For Lacan, this separation constitutes a profound sense of loss that will linger throughout our lives, driving us to seek substitutes for the lost union with our mother.
The Haunting Quest for Fulfillment
Lacan explains that we unconsciously pursue this lost feeling of completeness and union with our mother in the Symbolic Order. Whether through seeking a perfect partner, acquiring wealth, changing religions, enhancing appearance, striving for popularity, or fulfilling societal desires, we attempt to recreate that vanished sense of plenitude. However, Lacan posits that true fulfillment remains elusive because what we are essentially seeking, without realizing it, is the feeling of completeness that disappeared when we entered the Symbolic Order through language acquisition.
Objet Petit a: The Lost Object of Desire
Lacan refers to this lost object of desire as "objet petit a" or "object small a," with the letter "a" representing the French word "autre" (other). It signifies how the Symbolic Order transforms our world, including our mother, into separate entities. The lowercase "a" might symbolize the personal and individual nature of this lost object of desire, which is entirely private and unique to each individual. In contrast, the capitalized "Other" in Lacan's terminology refers to a particular quality of the Symbolic Order that influences everyone.
Objet Petit a as a Trigger of Repressed Desire
Furthermore, "objet petit a" also refers to anything that connects an individual to their repressed desire for the lost object. For instance, in Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past (1954), the narrator experiences a nostalgic regression to his early youth when tasting a madeleine, a small teacake. The sensory experience triggers unexpected and vivid memories, drawing him back to his past.
In conclusion, Lacanian psychoanalysis elucidates the critical role of language in shaping our perception of self and others within the Symbolic Order. The quest for completeness and union with the lost object of desire remains an ever-present force, influencing our decisions and desires throughout life. Understanding the concept of "objet petit a" sheds light on how we grapple with our unconscious desires, seeking to reconnect with that which was lost in our early encounters with the Symbolic Order.