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Lacanian Desire: Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

2777 words - 11 pages

Introduction
Madame Bovary is Gustave Flaubert’s first novel and is considered his masterpiece. It has been studied from various angles by the critics. Some study it as a realistic novel of the nineteenth century rooted in its social milieu. There are other critics who have studied it as a satire of romantic sensibility. It is simply assumed that Emma Bovary, the protagonist, embodied naive dreams and empty cliché that author wishes to ridicule, as excesses and mannerisms of romanticism. She is seen as a romantic idealist trapped in a mundane mercantile world. Innumerable theorists have discovered and analysed extensively a variety of questions raised by its style, themes, and aesthetic innovations. In this research paper an attempt has been made to analyse life of Emma Bovary as a paradigm of Lacanian desire.
According to Jacques Lacan, desire arises from lack and one lacks what one desires. Thus it seems to be a paradoxical situation at the outset. Lacan has explained the concept of desire and lack by taking an infant as his subject. He describes the transition from infancy to childhood in different stages i.e. the imaginary, the symbolic and the real. Imaginary is the state of infant’s oneness with the mother. Here the concept of “the mirror stage” is introduced by Lacan. The mirror stage is a bridge between imaginary and symbolic order. When the infant sees his image in the mirror, he identifies himself with that ideal image which is unified as compared to his own fragmentary experience. So, there comes a split in the infant which is further aggravated through his entrance into the symbolic order i.e. social structures and laws embodied in language. The subject gets divided. The subject feels alienated because he is lacking that unity with the mother and this lack gives birth to desire.
According to Lacan “desire is the essence of man; desire is simultaneously heart of human existence” (Evans 37). He says that desire is always unconscious. It is not the case that Lacan sees conscious desire as unimportant but the unconscious desire forms the central concern of psychoanalysis. Secondly, unconscious desire is entirely sexual in nature as he says, “the motives of unconscious desire are limited…to sexual desire…the other great generic desire that of hunger, is not represented” (Lacan 156).
It is possible to recognize one’s desire only when it is articulated in speech i.e. in the presence of the other. But because of the ‘fundamental incompatibility’ between the desire and the speech there is a limit to its articulation in speech. Whenever speech attempts to articulate desire there is ‘always a leftover, surplus, which exceeds speech (Evans 37). To put it in simple words, the desire cannot be put into words; it cannot be expressed and thus is always left unexpressed.
Lacan distinguishes desire from need and demand in his article “The Signification of the Phallus”. According to Lacan, need is purely biological in nature which can be satisfied....

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