One of the most interesting concepts in Lacanian psychoanalysis is the concept of the real. Perhaps one of the reasons this concept is so interesting is because it is outside of the imaginary and the symbolic, and that makes something we can’t ever really explain in the ways we normally explain things —with images and words. (What I think we can do is use images and words to explain things around the real, and perhaps get just the smallest of glimpses of an understanding of the real.)
Here is my attempt to offer something that might help people start to think about the real.
The real is something that is a profound truth that has a traumatic impact on those who are exposed to it. An example of this is the truth the concepts of nothingness that is the heat death of the universe, another is the idea of infinite non-existence. We can think about these ideas sort of, but if we really integrate them into our subjective understanding they will traumatize us in ways that will make us crazy.
Every now and then, we experience what Lacan called a “touch of the real,” a reminder that the real is always already out there… that our lives —the time in between before we were born and after we die— are just a hole in the real.
The real reminds us of how small and fragile life is. This reminder is not an easy thing to endure.
The drive & jouissance:
The real creates a drive in us, a drive to do things that make our life full of pleasure and enjoyment, what Lacan calls Jouissance. However, the thing about the drive is that while we enjoy it the drive is always something that has a destructive effect.
When we a pulled in by the drive’s jouissance we do things that destroy our bodies, our environment, our society, our families, etc. When we are in the pull of the drive what we do is immensely exciting and oh-so-much-fun. But this enjoyment —this jouissance— always comes at a cost.
As we live we are all subjected to (we are all subjects of) the drive and the feeling of jouissance, this is one of the things we need to learn how to deal with.
Jouissance is the blade of the drive, the blade that splits into what Lacan called “the barred subject,” which he wrote as $. We are split between the pull of jouissance and our desire resistance to this pull and see what happens if we don’t destroy our selves, our societies, and our world.
I see the drive as a black-hole and jouissance as the gravity this black-hole uses to pull us into its horizon.
Desire is what happens when there is an alternative introduced to us, something that does not offer the extreme pleasure of jouissance, but it does offer us something else that interests us. When we encounter something we desire we turn towards it and start to resist the pull of jouissance. Desire is what gets to move, to start to spin, and this spin creates a stable orbit… a way of circling the drive by not no longer falling directly into it.
When I say we are split subjects I mean we are split between the drive’s pull and the pull of desire.
If we don’t have desire the pull of jouissance sucks us into the drive and we return to the real, to the place we reside before we were born and after we die.
To live without desire is to live only with a drive.
All drive is a death drive.
Our attempts to resist the drive and jouissance create a symptom. I’d go so far as to say a symptom is just another word for the orbit I described above.
Our symptom is a way of making our lives as split subjects, as people caught between the powerful pull of jouissane and the power of our desire, tolerable. When we have our symptom we can live a life.
Be that as it may, there is something that is always somewhat problematic and unsatisfying in our symptoms. We need our symptoms, but to some degree, we also seek to rid ourselves of them. We always want a “better” symptom than the one we have.