In the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan, objet petit a (object little-a) stands for the unattainable object of desire. It is sometimes called the object cause of desire. Lacan always insisted for it to remain untranslated "thus acquiring the status of an algebraic sign." (Écrits).
In 1957, in his Seminar ''Les formations de l'inconscient, Lacan introduces the concept of objet petit a as the imaginary part-object (see Melanie Klein), an element which is imagined as separable from the rest of the body. In the Seminar Le transfert (1960-1961) he articulates objet a with the term agalma (Greek, an ornament). Just as the agalma'' is a precious object hidden in a worthless box, so objet petit a is the object of desire which we seek in the other.
In the Seminars ''L'angoisse (1962-1963) and The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1964), objet petit a is defined as the leftover, the remnant left behind by the introduction of the Symbolic in the Real. This is further elaborated in the Seminar The Other Side of Psychoanalysis'' (1969-1970), where Lacan elaborates his Four discourses. In the discourse of the Master, one signifier attempts to represent the subject for all other signifiers, but a surplus is always produced: this surplus is objet petit a, a surplus meaning, a surplus of jouissance.
Slavoj ?i?ek explains this objet petit a in relation to Alfred Hitchcock's MacGuffin: "[The] MacGuffin is objet petit a pure and simple: the lack, the remainder of the real that sets in motion the symbolic movement of interpretation, a hole at the center of the symbolic order, the mere appearance of some secret to be explained, interpreted, etc." (Love thy symptom as thyself).
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