Entrenched in the philosophical jargon of Lacan’s theory of desire is a concept known as objet a petit. Orbiting the human psyche, objet a petit is the symbolic representation of an idealized experience; one that is alleged to satisfy mankind’s ultimate desires and is yet, altogether non-existent. To explain this in clearer terms, Lacan might ask you to consider the following scenario.
You’re at the movies, agitating for your film to start and as part of the pre-screening ritual, a Coca Cola commercial comes on. You watch, as an attractive teenager takes a drawn out swig from a patented red can and within minutes, her icy, fizzy giggle-infused experience makes you want what she’s having. When the movie breaks for a snack refill, you buy yourself a can and crack it open in a frenzy, expecting your experience to be as gratifying as the one you witnessed on-screen. Except, when you finally have the drink and gulp it down, it probably feels alright, but just not as great as you touted it to be. What’s inside your can doesn’t seem as icy or fizzy or endorphin inducing as you’d imagined it earlier and a craving for something ‘better’ begins to seep in. This, is objet a petit. The unceasing chain of experiences, where each is filled with a surplus that you will always desire but will never fully be satisfied with.
At this point, you’re probably steamrolling disapproving looks in my direction as you begin to question my rant on Lacanian philosophy in an article you were instead promised, would be travel-oriented, so allow me to rationalize it. In the following paragraphs, I hope to use my travel experiences in an attempt to disprove this very philosophy that I spent two paragraphs worth of words, explaining. I will string together an experience that negates the universality of objet a petit, and perhaps, if I’m lucky, convince you that some things are exactly what you desired it to be.
October of 2018, my mother, sister and I travelled to Europe for a period spanning 11 days and although feverish with excitement, it’d be brutally dishonest of us to say that we weren’t queasy at the thought of travelling by ourselves. Above all else, we were miserable about not having my father accompany us and oddly enough, were already looking forward to returning home as we bid him goodbye at the international airport in Calcutta. Eventually, after swinging between flights and having exchanged several inane comments about insufficient leg space, we navigated our way into Frankfurt, where for the next three days we intended to reside. A German citizen for 18 years now, my mama (uncle) transmogrified overnight into an adorable tour guide, all for our sake, and chalked out intricate plans commencing 7:00 a.m. the following day. That weekend in October, we drove down to Munich, struck off Oktoberfest on a non-existent checklist, embarrassingly dodged dirndls and regretted it later, overindulged in pretzels, walked around autumn infused parks, and gobbled down some great food (read: personal shout-out to mami’s insane cooking skills) before filing into a train that would take us to Paris.
While a significant portion of our voyage had elapsed uneventfully, we were only just beginning to realize that what was left of it, would launch us into full throttle. Leaving our family behind in Germany – with their familiar faces and shielding arms – had rendered us daunted and forlorn in commensurate quantities. Our first reality check arrived in the form of seat-nitpicking on a train ride from Karlsruhe to Paris. The second, was our frantic search for the correct platform accompanied with an incessant scrambling of sweater filled suitcases and the third – no brownie points for guessing- our French vocabulary that stood frustratingly fixated at its nascent stage. Fortunately, while we wriggled through our snags with one hand, we embraced Paris with the other.
On our first day in Paris, we successfully accomplished the single most touristy act we could possibly partake in. We got lost. And this is where we grasped how fortunate we really were to have the constant support of Catterfly, no matter how odd the hour and how unseemly the request. Notwithstanding their exemplary logistical upkeep, the entire team at Catterfly tirelessly tackled the irksome task of regulating our insular tours, placing off-beat recommendations on record and essentially extricating us from every mess we happened to get ourselves into. Had it not been for their support, it would have been nearly too stroppy for us to visit Rue Cremieux, The House of Nicholas Flamel and Shakespeare and Company, amongst other obscure locations.
Aside from the obvious tourist-magnets the likes of Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and Musee dé Louvre, we made our way around Paris the way I imagine Celine and Jesse did. We trotted down Latin Quarters and feasted on fluffy aesthetics. We visited MontMartre and watched Paris bathe itself in hues of pink and salmon. We traded birthday greetings, sketchy French and umbrellas with strangers. We ate too much cheese and drank far too little wine. There was a a certain je ne sais qoui about Paris, in the pith of which we found intricate architecture and unceasing pride.
Although we were entirely too sad to leave its animated city lights, cobbled streets and wild soul, our next destination was an easy excuse to take recluse from the world. To say the very least, Interlaken, with its sweeping mountains and rustic appeal, was magnificent. Although we were unfortunate enough to face terrible weather on Mount Titlis and sporadic bursts of hostile behavior elsewhere, we had much to thank for. Not only did we find ourselves in the wonderful company of Richa and Nitin, who brought us a little piece of home with them, but we also wolfed down par for the course Swiss delicacies and the liberation that came with living by ourselves.
Unrestricted by the hustle of city life, Interlaken soon appeared to be an antonym to the cultural language that we experienced next. As mountains melted away from sight and houses with skewed roofs made way for buildings overwrought with history, we finally arrived at the last peg of our journey. Our car rolled into the streets of Zurich and the aura of Switzerland switched poles, almost tangibly. Ironically, the street we took up lodging in, was mottled with biker gangs soaked in matted hair and piercings, a gay bar, a cannabis store and an endless array of hippie cafés serving up the promise of a good night, all within range of a renowned church. That night, as silvery streaks of drunken laughter and the sound of the church bell floated up simultaneously to our hotel window from the street below, my mother, in her sharp wit, was quick to joke about the irony. I hypothesized that if anything, Zurich was the reckless laughter of those who were unanchored to the burden of expectations.
On our flight back home to Calcutta, we each remained silent in our thoughts. Somewhere, I knew that was because we were overwhelmed to a greater degree than we were either weary or sleep deprived. When we’d planned, iterated and eventually commenced on our journey, we were entirely oblivious to the fact that we would partake in an experience far greater than anything we could have hoped for. If most ways, this trip was the antithesis to Lacan’s objet a petit; an experience so wildly independent of the boundaries of our fantasy that to experience this instant was to say yes to all of eternity.
On a concluding note, we’d like to thank Catterfly for being our pillar. If we’re lucky enough to travel the entire world with you, maybe one day, we won’t be tourists anymore.
Nayaneeka Dutta Choudhury