But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. (Galatians 5:16-18)
So I’m reading Fink’s book on Lacan, and he’s talking about how important it is for the analyst not to accede to the analysand’s demands. Why? Fink says it’s not so much to keep control of the analytic relationship as it is to bring desire into play:
When there is no lack — when everything demanded is surrendered — desire is stymied. Nothing is left to be desired. Desire springs from lack… Satisfaction buries desire.
When Paul says that “the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit,” what does he mean? One possibility is that Paul is describing an Aristotelian hierarchy of the soul, where the flesh and its desires are “lower” and the spirit is “higher.” The higher should rule the lower, says Aristotle. But Paul has been talking not about internal divisions of the self but about slavery versus freedom, about the Law versus the Spirit. It is for freedom that Christ set us free, Paul asserts at the beginning of Galatians 5. No hidden agenda; no freedom in order that. So why would Paul now start talking about using freedom as a tool to enslave the passions to the mind and the will?
I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. (Romans 7:7-8)
The Greek word translated as “covet” here is the same word that’s translated as “desire” in Galatians 5. I would not have known about desiring if the Law had not said, “you shall not desire.” This I think is precisely what Lacan has in mind. When there is no gap between demand and surrender, when nothing prohibits fulfillment, then there is no desire. Desire is created by the Law, by the prohibition it inserts between you and what you want.
So: prohibition creates lack, and lack creates desire. In this sense desire isn’t a natural urge or passion; rather, it is an artifact of prohibition. So to seek fulfillment of your desires isn’t just to seek natural satisfaction; it is to violate the prohibition that created the desire in the first place. That’s why desire is sin in Romans 7. And that’s also why fulfilling your desires can’t satisfy you. Desire = prohibition; fulfillment = violation.
So, when Christ sets the Galatians free from the Law, he isn’t just making it possible to be good without following the rules. By getting rid of the rules, Jesus eliminates the prohibitions that create desire, which in turn eliminates the temptation to violate the prohibitions.
The Spirit brings freedom from the Law, from prohibition, from desire, from violation. Someone who remains enslaved to the Law experiences desire as a corrupted fusion of passion and prohibition. The Law-bound person can never do what he wants, not just because what he wants is prohibited, but because his wants are themselves distorted by the prohibitions attached to them by the Law. Under the Law want is inextricably bound to the desire to sin. There is no freedom in this kind of desire. But the Spirit releases want from prohibition, fulfillment from violation. Only in the Spirit are you free to “do the things that you please.”