The objet petit a, and the actor's objective.
While doing research for a production of Into the Woods, I ran across Tyler Matthew Howie's 2018 thesis from Boston University, A LACANIAN PERSPECTIVE ON SELECTIONS FROM INTO THE WOODS. I had never heard of this Lacan, but I was struck by how Howies explanation of of the object a petit a, mirrored how I try to explain acting objectives to my students.
This is the section that I connected with:
Before beginning a discussion of the objet petit a, we must first define “the other.” This is not easily done, however, as there are two “others” in Lacanian thought: the other and the Other. Klein, however, both defines the terms and describes the differences between them succinctly, saying that:
…there is a distinction between the Other (capital O) and the other (lowercase o) in Lacanian thought. The Other (also called the big Other) is language and the culture that it signifies. The other, however, can be the mother, against whom the subject first defines itself, or a person who substitutes for the mother, or even an object that substitutes for the mother. In the last case, the other is also called the objet petit a (object with a lowercase a for autre: other).18
The objet petit a is the other, and serves as a replacement for the first other: the (m)other. After the subject realizes she is separate from the mother, and not connected as she was in the womb, the subject searches for a relationship, person, object, etc. that will replace the mother—or so she hopes. This search for an other to replace the mother, fueled by desire from the start, is a search that will last the subject for her entire life. However, this other, the objet petit a, is unattainable. After the subject finds what she believes to be a suitable replacement and/or substitute for the mother, she eventually realizes that said substitute is not good enough. It does not and will never fulfill the subject, closing the circuit of her desire. Lacan represents this in a graphic, shown below in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Lacan’s representation of the objet petit a
In this graphic, Lacan draws a line, with an arrow at one end, in the shape of a circle. The circle, however, does not connect to itself—something is blocking the arrowhead from closing the circle. That something is a lowercase a for autre—the objet petit a. The literal identity of the object does not particularly matter, but the importance of this object to the subject does. This is because the subject will never be rid of her desire for an object to complete her; the fire never goes out. Because the subject hopes for completion via the object, it is the value the subject inserts into, or projects onto the object that keeps the circle from closing. This value, however, is false; in Lacan’s view, the object can never live up to the subject’s perception of its value. The subject will never truly be satisfied, no matter what the object. Even if she does end up obtaining her objet petit a, she will realize that it does not fulfill her the way she thought it would, and will go on searching for a new one. We are never free of the search for an objet petit a. . .
You can find Howie's full thesis here.
This needs a lot more thought and exploration on my part - but if I didn't get it written down I was going to loose the moment's inspiration. I'd love to hear anyone else's thoughts.