The Lost Objects of Desire and the Symbolic Order

In Lacanian psychoanalysis, the concept of "objet petit a" encompasses not only the literal preverbal fantasy union with our mother but also events or periods later in our youth that unconsciously remind us of that lost union. For instance, in Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, the madeleine acts as an "objet petit a," triggering nostalgic memories and symbolizing a return to innocent youth before life's disappointments.

Similarly, in The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby's fixation on the green light at the end of Daisy's dock can be seen as his "objet petit a." Beyond representing the promise of Daisy, it also symbolizes the desire to regress to a time before he was disillusioned and corrupted by life, reflecting his yearning for a lost sense of completeness.

The Role of Loss in Language

Lacan underscores the crucial role of loss and lack in language and the Symbolic Order. Language itself implies loss, as words become necessary stand-ins for things we no longer experience as inseparable parts of ourselves. For example, the word "blanket" becomes necessary to refer to an object we are no longer one with. The Symbolic Order, known through language, introduces a world of lack, marking the separation of self from objects and others that were once inseparable.

Conscious and Unconscious Mind

As a consequence of the perceived lack in the Symbolic Order, a split occurs between the conscious and unconscious mind. The unconscious emerges through the repression of our desire for the preverbal union with our mother—a desire that seemed overwhelming before the advent of language. Repression of this lack and desire generates the unconscious, making it structured like a language, perpetually seeking the lost object of desire represented by the fantasy mother of our preverbal experience.

Metaphor and Metonymy: Operations of the Unconscious

Lacan likens the operations of the unconscious to two common processes in language: metaphor and metonymy. Metaphor involves using one object as a stand-in for another dissimilar object for purposes of comparison. For instance, a red rose may serve as a metaphor for love, emphasizing qualities such as beauty, softness, and potential to cause pain. On the other hand, metonymy involves using an object associated with or part of another object as a stand-in for the whole. This process also involves a kind of loss or lack, as it momentarily shifts focus away from the individuals represented by the figures of speech.


Lacanian psychoanalysis delves into the complexities of desire, loss, and language within the Symbolic Order. "Objet petit a" represents not only the preverbal fantasy union with our mother but also various events or experiences that evoke a sense of lost completeness. The interplay between conscious and unconscious mind, coupled with metaphor and metonymy, further highlights the intricacies of human psychology and the intricate relationship between language and desire.

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