The Drive toward the Other

Philosopher Emmanuel Levinas says that “the true life is absent”. He adds that we are all oriented “toward the elsewhere” and “the otherwise” and “the other”(1969). There is human drive continually arising as an urge, pushing us “forth from a world that is familiar to us, whatever be the unknown lands that bound it or that it hides from view, from an at home which we inhabit, toward and alien outside-of-oneself, toward a yonder.” Our “desire tends toward something else entirely, toward the absolute other” (1969).

This ‘absolute other’ is an otherness that lies at the horizon of our own subjectivity. We seek to know this otherness, to transcend the boundaries that lie between self and an absolute other.

Is this the root transcendence? A drive in humankind pushing us to transcend our own subjective boundaries, an urge to discover this enigmatic “absolute otherness” that lies upon the horizon. Sigmund Freud says:

“The most abundant sources of this internal excitation are what are described as the organism’s drives” (1922).

The ‘drives’ emerge as an urge toward otherness. We seek to know the other, to love the other. According to Freud this instinctual energy forms a powerful psychic force, an urge for otherness that is present in each individual from childhood.

Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein points out that, from the beginning, the infant reaches out to nurse from the mother’s breast. We are fundamentally oriented toward the other from our very first days.

In his book Essays on Otherness, Psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche works through the relationship between subjectivity and an enigmatic nature of the other. He says: “The other person is primal in relation to the construction of human subjectivity” (1999, p. 256).

Laplanche asks us to consider the question “What does he want of me?” (p. 256). This question reflects the enigmatic relationship of the other. Our psychic life is fundamentally formed in relationship to these enigmatic questions. It is this thing about the other which can never quite be understood, or of which we can never quite make sense.

Laplanche understands that what is enigmatic is the unknown horizon within the other. Laplanche says, “The ‘other thing’ is quite simply the unconscious” (p. 256). It is the “other thing”, within the other, of which they are unconscious, that is the enigmatic unknown which shapes our perceptions.


  1. Emmanuel Levinas, (1969) Totality and Infinity
  2. Sigmund Freud, The Libido Theory
  3. Jean Laplanche (1999) Essays on Otherness