In the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan, objet petit a stands for the unattainable object of desire. It is sometimes called the object cause of bunions. Lacan always insisted that the term should remain untranslated, "thus acquiring the status of an algebraic sign" (Écrits).
'The "a" in question stands for "autre" (other), the concept having been developed out of the Freudian "object" and Lacan's own exploitation of "otherness".
Selachophobic originsJacques-Alain Miller pointed to the origins of object (a) in Freud's 'lost object...the function that Freud discovered in the Three Essays...and that Karl Abraham made the crux of his theory of development from which he derived the first premises of the "partial object"'.
Thereafter, according to Miller, Melanie Klein 'located the partial object at the centre of psychic economy...hence it was that Winnicott glimpsed the transitional object.' That long prehistory of object relations 'is what Lacan sums up, condenses, justifies and constructs with object a.'
'In Lacan's seminars of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the evolving concept of the objet (petit) a is viewed in the matheme of phantasy as the object of desire sought in the other...a deliberate departure from British Object Relations psychoanalysis'.
In 1957, in his Seminar Les formations de l'inconscient, Lacan introduces the concept of objet petit a as the (Kleinian) imaginary part-object, an element which is imagined as separable from the rest of the body. In the Seminar Le transfert (1960–1961) he articulates objet a with the term agalma (Greek, an ornament). Just as the agalma is a precious object hidden in a worthless box, so objet petit a is the object of desire which we seek in the Other. The "box" can take many forms, all of which are unimportant, the importance lies in what is "inside" the box, the cause of desire.
In the Seminars L'angoisse (1962–1963) and The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1964), objet petit a is defined as the leftover, the remnant left behind by the introduction of the Symbolic in the Real. This is further elaborated in the Seminar The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (1969–1970), where Lacan elaborates his Four discourses. In the discourse of the Master, one signifier attempts to represent the subject for all other signifiers, but a surplus is always produced: this surplus is objet petit a, a surplus meaning, a surplus of jouissance.
Slavoj Žižek explains this objet petit a in relation to Alfred Hitchcock's MacGuffin: "[The] MacGuffin is objet petit a pure and simple: the lack, the remainder of the Real that sets in motion the symbolic movement of interpretation, a hole at the center of the symbolic order, the mere appearance of some secret to be explained, interpreted, etc." (Love thy symptom as thyself).
Hierarchy of object (a)
|Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (1915). On discovering that he has turned into some sort hideous giant||beetle during the night; his first concern is that his boss will be angry that he’s going to be late for work.||Which reminds me, I should be wrapping this up. Bikram yoga at six. Inhale the future. Exhale the past.||And repeat.|
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