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Objet petit a × Cruel Optimism

 "Cruel Optimism is enacted in the subject's desire to temporize an experience of the loss of an object/scene with which she has invested her ego continuity."  [1]


Cruel optimism, as a manifestation of subjective desires, is attached to a definite object and goal. These "things" as objects provide me with a potential future and an optimistic state of pursuit; but at the same time, they also make me continue to hinder and frustrate myself in the false fantasy of autonomy. Therefore, in order to understand the causes of this paradox, I analyzed the process of "cruel optimism" on the basis of Jacques Lacan's theory "Objet petit a":


[Diagram] Objet petit a, Lacan Jacques

[关系图] 客体小a:残酷乐观的产生,李曦.jpg

[Diagram] Objet petit a: The birth of cruel optimism, Xi Li

  • The human subject has had a "fissure" — Objet petit a — since its inception.[2] It is something that can never be touched. It is the "object cause" of desire. (Lacan calls it "Object-Cause of Desire")

  • Objet petit a makes the subject produce desires and urges people to fill in the lack of subjectivity with objects (or, more accurately, with transitional objects).

  • This process derives "fantasy"[3](from Réel to Symbolique). Fantasy is a reflection of desire for materialized effect, but also a connection.

  • Thus, Objet petit a becomes a "reset" after from Réel to Symbolique and existed for enjoyment. [4]

  • This leads to objects that are usually glorified or overestimated by us.[5]In the contemporary world of capital, it usually manifests itself as the experience of surplus-enjoyment or the promise of the future as the goal.[6]

  • But imaginative enjoyment often emerges where the symbolic chain fails and breaks (the shaded part of the diagram), which is where cruelty and optimism alternate. This separation of the signifier from enjoyment is also the division of the unconscious-realm from the self-realm.

[1] Lauren Berlant, “Cruel Optimism”, p.24

[2] Lacan Jacques, Conférence à Londres du 2 février 1975, Revista Argentina de Psicología, pp. 137-141.

[3] As Slavoj Zizek said:“desire with its fundamental fantasies involving objet petit a.” Source: Slavoj Zizek, “Making Use of Religion? No, Thanks!”, The Philosophical Salon,

[4] In the seminars of 1962-3 and of 1964, objet petit a is defined as the leftover, the remainder (Fr. reste), the remnant left behind by the introduction of the symbolic in the real. This is developed further in the seminar of 1969-70, in which Lacan elaborates his formulae of the four discourses. In the discourse of the master, one signifier attempts to represent the subject for all other signifiers, but inevitably a surplus is always produced; this surplus is objet petit a, a surplus meaning, and a surplus enjoyment (Fr. plus-de-jouir). This concept is inspired by Marx's concept of surplus value; a is the excess of jouissance which has no "use value" but persists for the mere sake of enjoyment.

[5] Lacan Jacques, Le transfert, Paris, Seuil, 1991, p. 203.

[6] As Lauren Berlant said:“Cruel optimism is an incitement to inhabit and to track the affective attachment to what we call the good life.” Source: Lauren Berlant, “Cruel Optimism”, p.27

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