Prelude 12, Claude Léger

Desire caught again by the tail

During the dark years of the Occupation, Lacan and Picasso were in the same boat, the one called “Work, Family, Fatherland … and tightening the belt.” 

They are also in the same photograph, taken in March 1944, by Brassaï at the home of Michel Leiris, on the occasion of a performance among friends of Picasso’s play Le désir attrapé par la queue [Desire Caught By the Tail]. If at the time Picasso was catching desire by the tail, it was because he was hard up for money [“il tirait le diable par la queue”].

Some time before this, Lacan had seen, in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, an installation by Prévert of match boxes within match boxes, a collection which, according to Lacan, was paradigmatic of sublimation, seeing that it was designed with discards elevated by accumulation to the dignity of the Thing. André Breton wrote: “Every bit of debris we come across must be regarded as a precipitate of our desire.”

In 1941, the year Picasso wrote his play, he painted “Bust of a Woman in a Hat”, in which the upper and lower halves of the face were so oriented as to be diametrically opposed, producing the illusion of movement, like in a blurred photograph.

“I do not seek, I find.”  Such was Picasso’s maxim, which Lacan cited numerous times. Indeed, he had found the Minotaure[1] without ever having gotten lost in the labyrinth, this Picassian figure having opened up perspectives much wider than those of the academism of avant-garde, which had served as his springboard.

In 1978, Lacan ended by stating that he was, in fact, not finding, but he was, nevertheless, continuing to seek. Among his questions, there was one that is of particular interest to us: why does desire pass into love?

Translated by Devra Simiu



[1] Minotaure was a multidisciplinary review founded by A. Breton. The cover of the first issue was contributed by Picasso. Among other contributors to the journal were Leiris, Griaule, Caillois, Masson, Bataille, and Lacan.