I’d like to suggest one particular example from the final installment of the Harry Potter saga as a clear starting point for an examination of the different subject positions represented by Voldemort and Harry.

The example is the case of the Elder Wand, and the two characters’ different relations to it. Simply put, Voldemort’s thirst for power and his manipulation of the Wand, versus Harry’s renunciation of power and his destruction of the Wand, exemplify, respectively, the positions of the master and the hysteric in Lacan’s four discourses (See Bruce Fink, The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance, 129-136).

Here’s my proposal: Voldemort’s rejection of all forms of Otherness identifies him with the subject of the master’s discourse, who manipulates the Slave(s), violently imposing a new Master Signifier, i.e., a ‘New World Order.’ Harry, on the other hand, with his acceptance of virtually ever kind of Otherness, every excluded/disenfranchised Other – going so far as to face death in order to save the ones he loves – and with his persistent, even relentless, curiosity, self-examination, and pursuit of the truth, exemplifies the discourse of the hysteric: “the hysteric goes at the master and demands that he or she show his or her stuff, prove his or her mettle by producing something serious by way of knowledge” (Lacanian Subject, 135).

However, the distinction between the master’s and the hysteric’s discourses is helpful in several other ways as well.

First, the master and the hysteric each has his own object-cause of desire. It helps to remember here that there is a difference between the object of desire and the object-cause of the desire: the object is a particular piece of material reality that stands in as one instance of the ineffable object-cause, which stands ‘behind,’ as it were, the object – this is the difference between the capitalist’s desire for a particular object (say, a BMW), and his object-cause (say, status/wealth); here, the object is an actual object, whereas the object-cause is an immaterial concept.

The object of the master’s desire is the actual person of the slave, who must be subordinated by the master in order for the master to secure whatever object-cause causes his desiring – his pursuit – of the to-be-conquered slave. For Voldemort, this object-cause would be something like Evil, an ideal kingdom dominated by the dark arts.

The object of the hysteric’s desire, on the other hand, is the master himself. Of course, in Harry’s case, this would be Voldemort as the ultimate, Evil threat to all that is Good. The hysteric sees it as his duty to expose the symbolic system for exactly what it is – not True, but, rather, one possible truth of many, merely one possible way of seeing the world (of course, what better example than society’s force-feeding of capitalism as the great Truth beyond all doubt, the system that ‘we’ll always be stuck with’?).

Harry also shows this demand to examine the status quo in his every move within the symbolic space of the university – Hogwarts – where he always seems to get into trouble, always needs to know why something is the case, the meaning of things, etc., even risking expulsion through disobedience to the Master-Signifier of the everyday wizarding world.

The thing that appears to make the master’s discourse, and the Master-Signifier, so frustratingly impenetrable to the hysteric (and therefore all the more desirable, ineluctably provocative and demanding) is what is called object a in Lacanian psychoanalysis. This is the ‘Je ne sais pas’ that draws the hysteric’s attention.

The hysteric’s self-chosen duty to expose false truths is the key motivation for the hysteric’s activity. In the same way as the scientist persistently investigates the tiniest scrap of material reality in order to find the ‘Truth’ underlying it all, the hysteric pursues a Truth beyond any would-be truth suggested by the master and the institutions that support the master (note that this pursuit of ‘knowledge for knowledge’s sake,’ or ‘pure’ science, is clearly different from applied science).

But then, what is Truth? Precisely, it is the Real: the empty void of possibility that precedes the imposition of any totalizing symbolic system (whether Voldemort’s or Dumbledore’s). Thus the Real is the object-cause of the hysteric’s desire.

However, Harry does not stay in the position of the hysteric throughout the entire series. His transition to the master (or ‘revolutionary,’ as Rob has suggested) discourse coincides with the transition in the series from adventurous fantasy chronicle to something much, much darker.

At the point when Good is under threat from all sides, when the wizarding world is up in arms about how to defend itself from Voldemort’s Evil, Harry can’t any longer function in the hysteric’s position: instead, he has to take up the fight and stand confidently against the tyranny of evil.

Non-coincidentally, Harry’s shift into the master’s position also coincides with his shift into adulthood: the frustrated, rebellious, dissatisfied youth ‘comes into his own,’ finally cuts ties with the master and realizes that he must choose to fight for one side or the other; at some point, he took the leap and made the de-cision (hyphenated to highlight the ‘cutting’ aspect) to break with an obsession with possibility, the Real, the ‘Truth’ of the master, and to stand for one Master-Signifier against all others.

That is to say, Harry decided to accept full responsibility for the limitations and sacrifices implied by his rejection of all other worldviews, in order to stand up for one particular view that ultimately gains support not in ‘Truth,’ but, rather, in the support of the symbolic community, namely, the ‘good guys,’ who will die for their Cause.

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