Subject of the Drive

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In his seminar on The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1964), Jacques Lacan reread Freud's essay "Drives and their Vicissitudes" (1915c) in order to emphasize that the four components of the drivepressure, object, aim, and sourceare not natural phenomena: the drive is a montage.

The constancy of the drive's pressure differentiates it from vital needs, which vary according to their own rhythms (Lacan, p. 171). Thus hunger is not the same as the oral drive. Satisfaction does not consist in fulfilling a need, but in completing a circuit of three stages. The "mouth that is involved in the drive," Lacan stated, "is not satisfied by food" (p. 167). The drive begins at an erogenous zone, and then makes a circuit around the object cause of desire, the object a. Thus Lacan saw drives as distinct from vital needs.

Lacan reserved the term "drive" for the sexual drives. Instincts of self-preservationthe Ichtriebe, Freud's ego-driveswere a function of narcissism. The subject of the drive emerged once the three stages of the drive's circuit were completed. Along with the active and reflexive stages, Lacan emphasized the importance of a third stage, in which, as Freud had said, a new subject would appear. This new subject is an other. When the "I" is, like an object, subjected to this other, it may experience pain and become a subject itself. It will seek to attach itself to the enjoyment of this other, which from then on plays the role of real Other. Only by completing the circuit of the drive does the subject come into contact with the dimension of the Other as the treasure trove of the signifiers. For Lacan, the concept of the drive is the pivot between the body, enjoyment, and language.

Clinical work allows us to see infantile autism as the result of a failure at the third stage in the circuit of the drive.

Marie-Christine Laznik

See also: Castration of the subject; Demand; Drive; Erotogenicity; Fantasy, formula of; Jouissance (Lacan); Perceptual identity; Real, the (Lacan); Subject; Topology.


Lacan, Jacques. (1978). The four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis (Alan Sheridan, Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1964)

Laznik, Marie-Christine. (1993).Pour une théorie lacanienne des pulsions. Le Discours psychanalytique, revue de l 'Association freudienne, 10

Penot, Bernard. (1998). La passion du sujet entre pulsion et signifiance. Bulletin de la Société de psychanalyse de Paris, 51.

Further Reading

Kernberg, Otto. (2001). Object relations, affects, and drives: Toward a new synthesis. Psychoanalytical Inquiry, 21, 604-619.