“The price of happiness is that the subject remains stuck in the consistency of its desire.” –Slavoj Zizek
It is acceptable to say that individuals desire. And we express our desires through language. For Lacan, the formation of language “is motivated by the pleasure that comes through feelings of control” (Barker, 98). Since language is socially constructed, then desire is also a socially constructed mechanism, as desires are expressed through dialogue and language. If “language is the symbolization of desire in a never-ending search for control” (Barker, 98), can we then contain or constrain desire. Furthermore, is desire just another means of trying to attain control? And, is satisfaction the death of desire?
According to Lacan, desire begins when demand is separated from need; “Desire is neither the appetite for satisfaction, nor the demand for love, but the difference that results from the subtraction of the first from the second. It is possible to satisfy need, which is a want-to-have one particular object or another (the source of pleasure). It is absolutely impossible to satisfy demand, which ‘constitutes the Other as already possessing the ‘privilege’ of satisfying needs” (Kaloianov). In other words, desire cannot be satisfied because “desire’s raison d’etre [reason for existence] is not to realize its goal, to find full satisfaction, but to reproduce itself as desire” (Desire: Drive-Truth:Knowledge).
Zizek suggests, “in a strict Lacanian sense of the term… ‘Happiness’ relies on the subject’s inability or unreadiness fully to confront the consequences of its desire: the price of happiness is that the subject remains stuck in the inconsistency of its desire.” He goes on to say that, “in our daily lives, we (pretend to) desire things which we do not really desire, so that ultimately, the worst thing that can happen is for us to get what we ‘officially’ desire. Happiness thus is inherently hypocritical: it is the happiness of dreaming about things we do not really want” (The Price of Happiness and Desire).
Zizek also suggests that, “desire is historical and subjectivized, always and by definition unsatisfied, metonymical, shifting from one object to another, since I do not actually desire what I want. What I actually desire is to sustain desire itself, to postpone the dreaded moment of its satisfaction” (Love Beyond Law). Satisfaction is not the death of desire, rather the attainment or accumulation of something that we thought we wanted. Therefore, desire is an illusion of control. If we mask that which we desire, are we merely masking a desire for some sort of control. Additionally, if we desire that which we do not truly want, then the attainment of such desire is not fulfilling either. Desire is then a paradox of the human condition. Jean-Paul Sarte suggests, “we do not know what we want and yet we are responsible for what we are – that is the fact.”
Is it that we believe before we desire, or fantasize even before we believe? Are our desires mere preconceptions of what we think we want, which ultimately mask the premise for the reason of our desires. Arguably, we are idealizing desire. We are not aiming to fulfill desire, rather to keep the idealization of desire afloat, our fantasy alive. In other words, “desire… is caught up… in social structures and strictures, in the fantasy version of reality that forever dominated our lives after our entrance into language. In a sense, then, our desire is never properly our own, but is created through fantasies that are caught up in cultural ideologies” (Felluga).
Happiness, then, seems to be the repetition of desire. The answer to the old clichéd question “is longing for something better than actually getting it” is suggested to be yes. One stops longing (desiring) when they stop living. Desire is not longing for one particular object, rather “to sustain desire itself” (Love Beyond Law). Can you be happy and insatiable all at once? Or is that the point? The paradox of humanity. If satisfaction is not the death of desire, should satisfaction even be desirable?
“It is not the object towards which desire tends, but the cause of desire. For desire is not a relation to an object, but a relation to a lack” (Lacan). Perhaps a lack of control.
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. 3rd ed. Los Angeles: Sage Publications Ltd. 2008.
Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Lacan: On Desire.” Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. 31 January 2011. 17 August 2011.
Kaloianov, Radostin. Hegel, Kojeve, and Lacan – The Metamorphoses of Dialectics – Part II: Hegel and Lacan. Academy for the Study of the Psychoanalytic Arts, 2004-2011.
Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book 11). New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 1998.
Sarte, Jean-Paul. Quotes. Brainy Quote, 2011. 17 August 2011. <http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/j/jeanpaul_sartre_4.html>
Zizek, Slavoj. Desire: Drive = Truth: Knowledge. Lacan Dot Com, 1997-2005. 17 August 2011.
Zizek, Slavoj. Love Beyond Law. Lacan Dot Com, 1997-2005. 17 August 2011.
Zizek, Slavoj. The Price of Happiness and Desire. 2002. European Graduate School. YouTube. 17 August 2011. < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqhWiohr_gQ>