“The only thing of which we can be guilty is of having given ground relative to one’s desires.”Jacques Lacan
This particular aphorism, or small statement of truth, boggled me earlier this week. I listened to the most recent episode of The Fundamentalists Podcast, in which Peter Rollins gives explanation to this maxim, and I found my mind circling the concept, but failing to understand its full import. In short, when individual subjects tend to feel guilt or shame about a thing they’ve done when it meets social norms, the cause can be isolated within the contrast between the subject’s desire and his/her action(s). In other words, while acting in accordance with society’s demands, the subject has compromised his/her desire, and it is the essence of the compromise that generates the indictment of the ego.
While this seems rather simple, I roiled in conflict over how, as a subject, I am to determine my own desire if, according to Freud, Lacan, et al., I am not even aware of my desire. Entangled in a sticky web, I froze, confounded. Whose desire am I to uphold? Mine? But I thought my desire is the desire of the other. I thought that I desire whatever it is that the other desires of me. If I’ve no true, authentic desire as a subject, then how am I to uphold a thing I do not actually have?
I consulted my new, additional, favorite podcast, Why Theory? In an episode called “The Ethics of Psychoanalysis,” Ryan Engley and Todd McGowan discuss this aphorism at length. Then, I realized that Peter Rollins released a series of videos on the topic this week, and after viewing the total, I finally began to scale the mount of comprehension.
Essentially, as a subject, I will never have a true, authentic desire because yes, my desire is always caught up in the desire of the other. However, over time, all these conflicting desires stew in my psyche, and as a subject, I choose to privilege some over others. Only I can know which of these carries higher moral weight for me. Those desires I value over all the others, from a subjective position, are those which I must uphold. When I do so, I can live and act without the condemnation of my ego. The conflict arises when the desire to please the social order contrasts the desire to enact my preferred desire.
It turns out that after three entire days of meditating over these things, I finally identified some personal applications of Lacan’s well known maxim. The first regards the utterance of profane words. The second regards the driving force behind every-single-word-I-write, as both an analytic, as well as a fictional writer.
I realized that my use of profanity has transformed greatly over the past few years. As a child, I remember when my friends began cussing on the regular. Somewhere around 4th grade, I think; perhaps, it was even earlier. I would. not. do it. I desired the pleasure of my parents more than I desired the pleasure of my peers. Had I cussed, I would have felt terrible. Cussing was Wrong. Over the past few years, a shift in my perspective of the symbolic order has liberated me. I now cuss. Not often, but enough. I feel not-even-a-shred-of-guilt when I do it. I don’t care if someone out there thinks I’m evil for it. I don’t see anything wrong with using strong language to convey strong feelings when appropriate. At present, my desire to employ diction relevant to circumstances outweighs my desire to adhere to social norms.
On another level, as a writer, I’ve recently learned it is absolutely essential for me to uphold my desire. I’ve been working on the manuscript to my first book–a novel–for over a year now. In the begininning, I was faced with the question of whether to adapt my language for a wider audience. In the beginning, I resolutely determined I would not do so. I write the words that flow from my spirit into my conscioussness and my body is a conduit of this energy–this spirit–to pen the words that shape the tale. There is no formula for what I do or how I work.
My diction is elevated–sure. It is so for good cause, for it is my language. I have a B.A. in English Literature. I read weighty philosophical texts for pleasure. The language I write is in no way contrived; on the contrary, it is as complete an expression of the essence of me as it can possibly be, within the limits of language and subjectivity.
In the Fall, I researched editing checklists online from popular and successful published writers. I found Jerry Jenkins, and while he gives excellent advice for writers hoping to find commercial success in the fiction-for-entertainment industry, when I combed through my draft applying his rules, I subtracted the me from my story. It became another Jerry Jenkins story. I labored for hours–over days–to improve a chapter, adhering to these industry imposed guidelines, and I became depressed and frustrated. A task that once freely flowed from deep within, that once propelled life—vibrancy–my libidinal investment–short circuited. It died–like a once overwatered, now neglected, house plant shriveled in a corner of a shelf enshrouded by dust.
Last night I attended my second writer’s critique group meeting. I submitted my first chapter for review. Amid much exceedingly helpful feedback was one nagging bit of advice headed straight for the garbage bin: adjust your style to satisfy the masses. This, I will not do. This, I cannot do. I tried. The attempt nearly killed the project.
Now, I realize the import of Lacan’s words. In my case, adhering to the rules of the global #WritingCommunity would be giving ground to my desire to write organically, to express the me I’ve become–the me that I embrace, however duplicitous and chaotic and divided she may be. I will not deflate the language of my novel. If fewer readers are compelled to read my tale, then so be it–it’s their loss, not mine.