Lacan shifted the focus of Freudian psychoanalytic theory by concentrating on the issue of the subject. He stands apart from his contemporaries in draining the latter notion of its normal meanings. From his standpoint, the subject is no longer the philosopher’s perception-cum-consciousness, nor the moralist’s intentionality, nor again the hidden being of depth psychology. It is rather linked to an original lack, an absence of being and substance which lies at the very origin of desire, in so far as this is distinguishable from need or demand. Whereas need is governed by the interplay of satisfaction and the lack thereof, and demand (which essentially is a demand for love) suspends such interplay in order to relocate it in some unattainable though compulsively yearned-for hereafter, desire itself is never brought to a close by any satisfaction or failure to satisfy. Desire, by which Lacan means to desire something other than the object required to satisfy a need, finds its completion in that which is not actively wanted. Where there is a lack, there is also a desire and a subject. In other words, the subject’s failure is to be superfluously present, being more than it is, and looking for guarantees when at bottom there are none to offer.
Subject and desire thus do not correspond to any kind of simple opposition such as truth and falsehood, or any other such binary mental schema, but rather to a ternary grouping as with the ego, id and super-ego introduced by Freud in his second topos, and taken up by Lacan in his three ‘dimensions’: the imaginary, the real and the symbolic. Such a treatment sees the subject as deriving from a third party termed the capital-Other, the Other of language, hence the ‘I’ who both speaks and listens. This entirely conjectural Other is essentially a symbolic locus which ‘ex-ists’ (i.e., is posited as external to the subject) both by its presence and its absence. Since it cannot be defined in terms of being or not-being, it cannot be mistaken for God or used to underwrite any idea. It can no more authenticate good faith than it can bad faith.
Discussing Lacanian ethnopsychoanalysis, therefore, means considering an ethnology that tackles the problem of the subject and the Other. Such