Understanding the Desire of a Performer

Although many performers have the ability to maintain an externally calm demeanor, many struggle with complex internal challenges which are often overlooked by those around them. Even though these challenges will always create psychological tension, an individual may develop the ability to harness the ambition the tension creates.

In order to more fully understand the struggles of the performer, it is necessary to take a look at one of the fundamental concepts of Lacanian psychoanalysis - desire. Although it was Lacan who truly pushed these theories to their limits, it is Dabrowski who extrapolated on how the 'gifted' (performers) experience the consequences of the paradoxes of motivation in a more extreme manner than others.

The Paradox of Desire

In fact, the goal of Lacanian psychoanalysis is to develop a deep understanding of the sources of motivation, and accept them with full responsibility. For Lacan, the satisfaction of desire is by definition unattainable, as he explains with the concept of jouissance. From a psychological perspective, it's easy to see that humans have a tendency to pursue things with ever increasing complexity, nuance, and detail. Sports provide the clearest example here - a runner will always want to run faster, a weightlifter will always want to lift more weight, and the climax of competition is the world record, whose numbers are always becoming more difficult to attain, yet seem to expand continuously.

However, even in cases where the goal is not 'ambitious' - for example, when one seeks relaxation - there is always room for improvement. Once clear example is the New Age search for 'inner peace,' which involves endless discipline: To attain enlightenment, a person must adopt a diet which becomes increasingly restricted, maintain a healthy exercise routine, and pursue the endless quest for deeper levels of transcendence during meditation. This journey is always partnered with an increasingly obsessive fascinations with spiritual leaders or religious zealotry. As Zizek points out, this trend is quite ironic because it is the quest for spiritual 'freedom' which pushes individuals today into increasingly restrictive lifestyles.

Therefore, the threat of jouissance isn't just that it can't be attained - our cognitive awareness ensures that jouissance can't be escaped, either. Jouissance is similar to the classic finger trap - the harder you pull, the tighter it grabs, but the more you relax, the further you are in it's clutches.

The move from 'desire' to 'drive' is of utmost importance in the Lacanian world, because it is this shift which signals not only an acceptance of the inner void, but celebrates it on many different levels. While all human subjects are caught in the cycle of desire, those who have the ability to actively embrace it's inescapably are said to have moved into the space of 'drive.' In short, it is only by accepting the relentless nature of jouissance that the individual can harness it's power and move into ever higher levels of performance.

Consequences for Performance Psychology

As mentioned earlier, Dabrowski extrapolated on how 'gifted' individuals experience certain psychological sensitivities. Although hard science associating hypersensitivity and giftedness is limited, the theoretical principle of jouissance allows us to see how performers are driven in a more urgent manner. In particular, Dabrowski highlighted only a handful of 'overexcitabilities' which gifted individuals experience. My argument is that the consequences of the paradox of desire are expressed more violently in performers than in average individuals - and that Dabrowski's short list of oversensitivities, although deeply insightful, is extremely insufficient. As Zizek explains in his magnum opus, "The Ticklish Subject," the paradox of desire is the most fundamental source of human subjectivity and even of consciousness itself. Therefore, it's power cannot be overstated.

The very existence of a performer is an expression of the primal urge to push the boundaries of desire as far as possible. The body is the miraculous vessel of the ontological necessity for expansion of awareness, which is expressed on an individual level as attaining new levels of performance. To a performer, the importance of peak achievement comes before everything else, because it is the very fabric in which personal identity is woven. Personal achievements are not simply an expression of ego-driven fanaticism - they are the fulfillment of the most fundamental forces of subjectivity, and simultaneously, they reveal the perpetual void which ensures the relentless nature of jouissance.

Only from this perspective can we truly understand the importance of performance to the performer. It is not a simple matter of wanting to become better at a particular skill - the drive for performance is the gravitational pull which holds human subjectivity together.

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