Issue 1: Whence Comes Love? The Manifesto as Desire and Demand

Whence Comes Love?

The Manifesto as Desire and Demand

Who, then, is the manifesto for? To whom is it directed and to what end? How might we understand the manifesto, not in its concrete and specific instances but as a general act, a wider pathology particular to certain moments in the social and cultural milieu when change, not yet visible or perceived as occurring, is called into being by the literal spells of statement?

In his lecture and subsequent essay “The Signification of the Phallus” (1958), Jacques Lacan comments that

Demand in itself bears on something other than the satisfactions it calls for. It is demand of a presence or of an absence—which is what is manifested in the primordial relation to the mother, pregnant with that Other to be situated within the needs that it can satisfy. Demand constitutes the Other as already possessing the ‘privilege’ of satisfying needs, that it is to say, the power of depriving them of that alone by which they are satisfied. This privilege of the Other thus outlines the radical form of the gift of that which the Other does not have, namely, its love. (Lacan, 1989. 219)

This shall be our map of travail.  

Demand in itself bears on something other than the satisfactions it calls for.

The manifesto is, at its heart, a demand. As much as it might appear to be something else, some other thing, it is a demand; perhaps disguised as a description of a bankrupt, impotent or aged status quo; perhaps masquerading as a concern for a failing or failed aesthetic or practice. Regardless, it is a demand and, moreover, a demand for something other than the outcome it seeks. The manifesto that calls for the end of the present order seeks not to pause there (and take its only satisfaction from that end) but to press past or through, to achieve an end beyond the ending it claims to warrant and need. This suggests we cannot be seduced into assuming that what the manifesto seeks is at the surface of its speech. The manifesto might point in one direction, but its desire leads in another.

It is demand of a presence or of an absence …

The manifesto seeks a specific relationship. It is dynamic, questing, driving forward while considering and looking back. It is a poetic feint in one direction, a side-step, a staking of position and a refusing of stasis. This wanting of everything in the current moment, this demand for immediate satisfaction, the simultaneous call for both presence and absence which is the fort-da of attempting to wrest control, hints at the secret truth of the manifesto’s desires, and the manner with which it positions those who draw the manifesto out in relation to that they seek to strike at, rail against. In Alex Danchev’s excellent 100 Artists Manifestos (2011) and across the manifestos contained within, ‘mother’ and variants occur 28 times; ‘father’ and variants occur 25 times; ‘shit’ and variants occur 15 times; ‘infant’ and variants occur 51 times. The relationship of the manifesto author(s) to wider systems, structures and practices is a familiar and familial one.

which is what is manifested in the primordial relation to the mother …

Not a real mother, not a person, nor even a human. Consider the ‘mother’ here a system, a structure, a conduit of power that ‘births’ a condition. This is why so many manifestos spend time and energy asserting or clarifying their position in relation to history and genealogy. Yet Lacan is also careful to point out that the demand of a presence or absence is equally visible in the maternal dyad; specifically in the fantasy of maternal relations that do not occur as fact in the moment, but which are created retrospectively by the subject who remembers. The demand of the manifesto, like all demands, sits in relation to its object as though it was placed in the ‘primordial relation,’ which is not the same as saying ‘as though it was a discrete or individualized child to its mother or caregiver’ (as we might offer as a contemporary translation of that discourse). Instead, we are encouraged to think of something much less agreeable and are directed to Lacan’s other great exploration of the primordial relation and the infant’s eventual separation from it in his consideration of the mirror stage. In that short and powerful work, he outlines that the infans (without speech) is, initially, unaware of the boundaries that separate it from its caregiver(s). This splintering into a subject, the awareness of itself as a discrete subject as reflected to it by a polished surface or the actions of others, is a moment of hostility and ambivalence. The infant emerges from the primordial relation aware of itself as always unfinished, as never as complete as those it can only consume as images or surfaces and thus never know as intimately as it knows itself. The infant emerges into subjecthood as an ambivalent individual, forced to both chase and mourn the plenitude it imagines it once experienced and which all others appear, to it, to already have.

… pregnant with that Other to be situated within the needs that it can satisfy.

The infant seeks satisfaction outside of itself, as even the reflection of itself appears to be more coherent than it—the infant—feels, seems more articulate, more practiced as an agency. Here Lacan necessarily utilises opacity to encourage multiple interpretations. Who or what is pregnant with ‘that Other’? And what is the relation of that ‘Other’ to the other pronoun, the ‘it’ that can satisfy? We have a maternal situation, a relation of power between an all-encompassing originary state and a part-subject seeking to both distinguish itself from that monad and yet remain essential to it; the child tears itself away to become an individual agent. The manifesto is the speech-act that drives the wedge between the ‘mother’ of practice, of history or tradition, and the newly formed, self-distinguished ‘newborn’, the mewling manifesto-ista. Yet, in the phrase ‘the needs that it can satisfy’ we encounter the fantasy of plenitude; for Lacan, the infant imagines that having distinguished itself from the mother, the mother is now found wanting and this ‘need’ can only be satisfied by the infant itself. The manifesto similarly reveals that the demand for change, rebirth, newness, a tearing down and a building up, occurs so as to satisfy the secret needs of the old order that only the new practice can recognise and fulfil. 

Demand constitutes the Other as already possessing the ‘privilege’ of satisfying needs …

Complexities abound. The old order is recognized in the manifesto as deficient and thus lacking. Claims are made about what it required, about what can be done (by the new) in order to remedy this. But the logic of demand falters here, for if change were possible and timely, would it not have occurred by now? Where, then, is the delay, the blockage? There must be something else, this ‘Other’, that—even before claims of change were made—had the ability to satisfy the deficit brought about by the splintering of the primordial relationship.The demand made by the manifesto of the old order, the aging or failing practice, necessarily involves identifying those factors which would ‘fix’ the problem and satisfy the demand. Often, the manifesto goes so far as to make clear the specific factors needed, the changes that must be made, and thereby makes clear that the ‘fix’ was present all along. It only needed new ‘youthful’ eyes to see. The means to satisfy the once-full parent lies beyond the child and lies within some Other thing, some Other process or practice. Yet the child can still demonstrate worth, value, priority by being the vehicle of satisfaction (of the demand) by identifying and bringing into the now rent relationship this Other which will surely fix, stitch, suture together the torn tissues of desire.

that it is to say

After all, why not just act? Why write at all? Of course, the statement is itself an act but it must also be noted that the manifesto provides an opportunity for speech, a chance to say out loud for the benefit of the Other who, by being imagined as hearing, is also imagined as having been influenced by having heard and therefore likely to act, to bring out the necessary changes. More than this, if we accept that this mysterious Other is a fantasy of those who write the manifesto, posited as some imagined site of power that will satisfy the demand as spoken or written, and if we recognise that the manifesto is a call to arms specifically for those who are in the act of writing it, then the manifesto recognises that those furious artists are themselves Other to the practices they seek to upend. It is for this reason that manifestos are so often in the third person, including all in the gathering of personnel in order to include as many willing participants in the status of being outside, and through this granting them the potential to provide satisfaction of the demand.

… the power of depriving them of that alone by which they are satisfied.

Beyond the old world dying and the new world struggling to be born is more complexity, another binary. Those things the manifesto identifies as necessary, those events and interruptions called for, could, by not occurring, equally prevent satisfaction. Having identified the solution to the current malaise, a solution which the manifesto could alone recognise and which the old order is incapable of comprehending, let alone bringing into being, the manifesto has also identified that which will fail. For a spectre to haunt, after all, the solution must already have died before it could emerge and what remains are the missed opportunities only visible by refusing the chain of events observed in retrospect and finally comprehending the single catastrophe. 

This privilege of the Other …

A privilege of the Other must necessarily come from the fact that it is created by the desire of the subject, that ache manifested in written form and expelled as the demand of the manifesto. As Lacan elsewhere writes 

desire finds its meaning in the desire of the other, not so much because the other holds the key to the object desired, as because the first object of desire is to be recognized by the other. (1989, 43)

The subject—here the manifesto author(s)—ultimately seeks recognition and validity through the actions to be undertaken as announced. Yet the old order, that which must be overcome, is unlikely to provide the recognition necessary for satisfaction (‘yes, you have rightfully overthrown us, we of an older, now bankrupt, practice’). Thus, the manifesto posits the mythical Other who will recognize the authors of the manifesto and who, as Other, also shares their desires, further validating them. Perhaps even, in this fantasy, the Other is imagined as neutral or, better yet, equally ambivalent and it is the power of the manifesto’s demand that sways it. Such a victory would provide even great validation.

Lacan refines this further when he later comments that “… man’s [sic] desire is the desire of the Other” (1978, 38), demonstrating that all subjects seek to both desire what the Other desires and, crucially, be desired by the Other, in that by so doing they be recognized as vital, meaningful and active subjects. The privilege of the Other, then, is that as a fantasy of desiring subjects who seek to be validated by appearing in the desires of an Other, is that it is freed from having to both deliver and disappoint. The Other remains the horizon of possibility. 

… thus outlines the radical form …

The outline, the silhouette, that, which from a distance, could resolve into the thing most sought. The manifesto is an outline of the future, a tentative sketch of both process or route and destination. It is the architectural plan, the building’s skeleton, the map of infrastructure as yet unrealised. In turn, the radical form is not the disruption one might assume is promised by the manifesto, but an acknowledgement that the manifesto seeks a return, a refocus, a new orthodoxy. To be radical, then, is to return to the root, the radial. Perhaps, if one is inclined to be sympathetic to the manifesto’s authors, it is not a retreat so much as a starting anew driven by the certainty that they alone can proceed in the true, appropriate direction and correct the discrepancies and wanderings of a practice that has gone astray. The radical position is then oriented towards the horizon of the Other and is arranged or developed (perhaps articulated) in order to be desired by that Other. 

… of the gift …

As has been comprehensively demonstrated elsewhere, the gift is never neutral, never innocent. There are always, as they say, strings attached. It is Jacques Derrida who notes that “… for there to be a gift, there must be no reciprocity.” (1992, 12). The recipient must never know the origin of the gift; the gift must arrive unannounced and unexpected with no trace of the source. Simon Wortham, commenting on Derrida’s discussions of the gift, makes clear that “Nothing is truly given, it is only that something is exchanged” (2010, 158). He goes on to clarify that 

The gift is thus singular, and singularly other, in that it keeps in reserve or as remainder something that cannot be reduced to any economy of what might be considered accountably exchangeable, reckonably shareable or calculable presently or in time. (2010, 159-160)

To return to the map which guides this reading, the gift is sent and arrives (for a gift, like a letter, will always arrive at its destination) with the distinction that the origin of the gift qua gift must be anonymous. 

Yet even anonymous gifts will have both a source and a motivation. Until this moment, the phallus, indicated as significant for this interpretation by the presence of Lacan’s thought which both guides and directs, has been thus far largely apparently absent from this discussion. Nevertheless, the phallus remains present if unacknowledged in the background as the signifier of a specific kind of authority. In that same work that maps this discussion, Lacan clarifies that

For the phallus is a signifier, a signifier whose function, in the intrasubjective economy of the analysis, lifts the veil perhaps from the function it performed in the mysteries. For it is the signifier intended to designate as a whole the effects of the signified, in that the signifier conditions them by its presence as a signifier. (1989, 218)

Thus the phallus, which is “even less the organ, penis or clitoris” (1989, 218) is that which stands in for whatever justifies access to power and authority and is therefore both the symbol of that access and, in the acquisition of it, the proof of one’s right to occupy such a position. Thus the tedium of biology is less important than the way in which so much hinges, yet again, on the fantasy of signification. Here, what is of interest is the ways in which genders, for Lacan, orient around the possible possession of, or access to, the phallus (in various forms) as that signifier of specific forms of identity. The phallus is also present as the invisible-but-motivating authority that drives the manifesto, the assertions and justifications of the manifesto as ‘being-right-because-stated’. Vitally, Lacan also notes elsewhere that “the symbolic phallus is that which appears in the place of the lack of the signifier in the Other“ (Evans 1996, 145) and that it is a “signifier which does not have a signified” (as cited in Evans 1996, 145). The phallus, in effect, floats as a discursive function waiting for the assignation of meaning in the service of some tawdry intrasubjective project, whether that be the search for a gendered identity in a social and cultural setting, or the demand that a specific creative practice is moribund and worthy of overthrow.

… of that which the Other does not have …

The gift of the phallus arrives from beyond the subject, as a function of the social and cultural context into which one is born. It arrives as if unasked for and yet is the signifier-without-content around which all exchanges must occur. Crucially, its presence occurs so as to disguise a lack in the Other, that spectral fantasy of authority that exists at the edges of perception and is that towards which all is directed, in the hope of the smallest crumb of return. 

… namely, its love.

Namely, its love. Finally a gift that can be given freely and truly because it is not held by that which gives it. The Other does not have the love it gives, which means that the love we receive from the Other does not originate with or come from the Other. So, whence comes love? The Other cannot give it, but it is received by the writing subject in the name of the Other with the act of writing the manifesto. In the fantasy of acceptance, of recognition in reception, and also in the fantasy of (phallic) authority which justifies the production of the manifesto, lie also the fantasy of the love received as a result. The love from the Other is produced by the subject who demands it. The demand of the manifesto, then, is always more than a mere articulation of practice. It is a singular quest for identity in the face of a contemporary climate that would otherwise reduce the individual to that most ordinary of states: irrelevance or insignificance. 


Danchev, A. (2011). 100 Artists' Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists. Penguin Books.

Derrida, J. (1992). Given Time 1. Counterfeit Money. (P. Kamuf, Trans.). University of Chicago Press.

Evans, D. (1996). An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. Routledge.

Lacan, J., & Sheridan, A. (1978). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book Xi: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. (J.-A. Miller, Ed.). W. W. Norton & Company.

Lacan, J. (1989). Ecrits (A. Sheridan, Trans.). Routledge.

Wortham, S. (2010). The Derrida Dictionary. Continuum.

Scott Wilson is a lecturer and researcher based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara in Aotearoa New Zealand. His research interests include a broad swathe of ‘critical theory and cultural studies’, particularly psychoanalysis, and the intersection of these in the human subject, as evidenced in the tumultuous struggle between desire and satisfaction.

next essay