Your Desires are Not Your Own!: Desire, the Unconscious and the Production of Subjectivity

Prof. J-D Dewsbury1, Dr Scott Sharpe1

1UNSW Canberra, Canberra, Australia


This paper theorises the relationship between desire and the unconscious by recasting a major theme of this session; namely behaviour. At least in some versions of social theory, behaviour is denigrated when compared with action. Hannah Arendt, for example, suggests that behaviour is held, by definition, to the determination of statistical predictability, and she thus firmly places behaviour in the realm of non-freedom, in contrast to the ‘initiative’ characterised by human action. What this distinction betrays, alongside a commitment to human exceptionalism, is the rigidity characteristically attributed to instinct and habit. Challenging this humanist relegation of behaviour to the sphere of non-freedom, we turn: first, after Massumi, to the problem of animal instincts, including our own, arguing that were the laws of nature to hold their recipients with any kind of rigidity, it would be fatal to both the animal and nature; and second, after Lazzarato, to habit as the institutionalization of desire, arguing that desire is that which is produced in assemblages of matter and ideal. Using Deleuze’s differentiating relationship between the unconscious and desire, we re-interpret the drivers of behaviour, displacing the interiority of the subject, to argue for subjectivity as the non-individual, singular capture of external forces.


JD Dewsbury and Scott Sharpe are cultural geographers working at the University of New South Wales, Canberra, Australia. They have established a research network The Difference Lab between UNSW Canberra, ANU and Bristol University. This research is based upon post-continental philosophy looking at understandings of habit, materiality and politics, the relationship between ontology and events, and the impact of assemblage theory and affect in research practice.

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