Objet petit a is a key concept in Lacan’s interpretation of Freudian psychoanalysis. The object little other (a for the French autre) which is a real object as opposed to the big Other which is not an object but a field of potential (about which, see earlier posts). In a nutshell, objet a is the point about which your neuroses or your symptoms revolve. It is like the proverbial elephant in the room which everyone silently avoids. Everyone, in silent collusion, pretends it is not there. It is a conceptual object, an object in the way that a point in geometry is an object. Lacan relates it to what he calls a geometral point. Objet a has a spatial logic. It is one of the components in Lacan’s text that makes psychoanalysis so spatial and hence amendable to architectural thought. But it also confounds spatial logic because it is always in you and outwith you. In psychoanalytic theory, there is a mirror equivalence between the subject’s inner and outer welt (world). This is represented in Lacan’s diagram of the visual field (where objet a is translated as the gaze or look). The world is always doubled. There are always two, your house, and the house you represent in your mind. They almost coincide, and there is a question about which one is more real.
Note: The doubling can be read two ways: a world and its reflection (either side of the image), or a world and an inverted world (two triangles intersecting at the screen).
Lets begin again. Objet a is a conceptual point that organises a subject’s signifiers. Imagine them revolving around a centre. It is not itself a signifier, but a point that organises them. Hence it is an empty spot in a subject’s discourse. Lacan treats it two ways in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. He introduces it in his discussion of the visual field [p67ff] where he explains it as the visual analogue of the vanishing point and a blind spot in the field of vision. In perspective, the vanishing point organises the picture even as it is the point at which all visual images vanish. It is not itself a visual image. It is also a counterpart to the viewer, the vanishing point is always opposite the eye point of the subject. Similarly, objet a (the gaze) organises the subject’s images or visual signifiers, its emptiness a counterpart to the essential emptiness of the subject. Lacan returns to objet a later in the same text [p149ff] in the theory of the drive, where it is shown [p178] as a point around which the subject’s signifiers revolve rather like the upstream side of water flowing past a pole. They circle objet a without touching it, without becoming it. As if we are simply a signifier machine, signifiers churning incessantly, and it matters little what they signify. Imagine the proverbial talking head at a party.
Psychoanalysis distinguishes the house you perceive from the house you represent to yourself; and has very little interest in the former, and everything to do with the latter. Hence Lacan’s interest in perspective as opposed to optics. The house you perceive is the outer world you share with others, barring relatively minor errors in perception about which we can usually agree to disagree. The house you represent to yourself and to others is an amazing world of signifiers, without which, of course, we could never agree or disagree about our perceptions.