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The Impossibility Of Desire Within Romantic Love As Revealed In A.S. Byatts Novel

The Letter, Issue 12, Spring 1998, Pages 94 - 98


THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF DESIRE WITHIN ROMANTIC LOVE

AS REVEALED IN A.S. BYATTS NOVEL 'POSSESSION: A ROMANCE

Orla Salmon


Desire represents one of the more elusive terms in Lacanian theory. In his paper on Subversion of the Subject and Dialectic of Desire, Lacan far from cedes 'to a logicizing reduction where it is a question of desire'.[1] According to Bowie, the only positive characteristic Lacan ascribes to desire is that it propels all acts of speech or refusals to speak, and all conscious and unconscious psychic representations. It is desire that maintains the movement of the chain of signifiers 'sustaining the endless play of condensation and displacement among ideas, or of metaphor and metonymy among signifiers.[2] Such mobility and adaptability enables Lacan to present a truer and more authentic portrayal of love in sexual relationships, which inevitably resists the cold, logical, robotic descriptions presented by other theorists on the subject of eros.

According to Lacan, his colleagues erred, not in refusing to speak about the 'paradoxical, deviant, erratic, eccentric, even scandalous character'[3] of desire, which distinguishes it from need, but rather in their readiness to reduce desire to need. Desire is not a bodily appetite which can be easily satisfied. Nor does it consist in the relief of unpleasurable tension. Furthermore, no individual possesses the power to provide complete satisfaction for another. There is always something else at work in the relationship between the need-driven subject and the person who is in a position to provide satisfaction, namely, a demand for love, for recognition. The divided subject, divided as a result of his entry into the symbolic order, looks to the Other, not simply to meet his needs, but to answer him with an unconditional yes. If it were merely a need to be satisfied, then, as Bowie says, a sucking machine' would suffice.[4] The person to whom the demand is addressed can never answer it unconditionally since the latter person is likewise lacking or split. He, too, as a being in language, is a divided subject. Desire originates both in this non-adequation between need and the demand for unconditional love, and likewise in the discrepancy between the demand itself and the ability to deliver of the person, to whom it is addressed. Desire is not a state or a motion, but rather a split or divided space. It is a space where the subject is fated to travel too far or not far enough. It is a 'place of permanent catastrophe'.[5]

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