24 Jun 2021

How to Catch a Turtle in European Projects?

European Projects Behind the Scenes (10)

Gregor Cerinšek, IRI UL

After an intensive two-day meeting in Amsterdam where we were simultaneously working on two different project applications, my colleague and I set down for a beer in a nearby bar. He looked at me and explained in a humorous manner: “Gregor, there are two best moments in European projects: when you submit the project application and when you receive the notification that it was approved. After that, everything starts to collapse…” (followed by laughter and a joint toast to European projects).

Amusement aside, his statement has still resonated in my head for quite a while and I believe that it needs some further exploring. Generally speaking, psychoanalysis defines satisfaction as something that we desire to repeat over and over again. The worst thing that can happen to a person is immediate fulfillment of his/her desire. A desire implies procrastination. Like a person in love who carries with him/her a message of his/her beloved one without opening and reading it, I also found myself not checking immediately the e-mail containing the information on project approval or rejection. Comparing it to Schrödinger’s cat, a project is alive or dead in the very instance of opening and reading the notification e-mail.

A desire does not look for satisfaction if this would lead to its end. As stated by Slavoj Žižek, a desire’s goal needs to remain untouched to enable its continuation. Or as in line with Kojève’s tautological perspective: “the desire desires to desire”. This explains why certain project managers who are so deeply immersed in the game that they just cannot stop playing it invest the majority of their time and energy in writing new and new proposals (leading to a hyperproduction of proposals) – still when projects get approved it seems as they do not enjoy so much in their actual implementation as they did when developing ideas and building and submitting the application. As the project implementation would present more of a necessity and less of actual enjoyment. The obsession with new projects is like a Hegelian desire, that does not find its satisfaction on a material level. With every new project, a desire encounters its inappropriateness; therefore, we experience over and over how “this project is not exactly what we anticipated it would be”. And each and every hysterical leap on a new project, when we work days and nights to catch the application deadline resulting in an immediate orgasmic relief after the proposal is successfully submitted (as stated by my colleague in the beginning) – still, it could lead to much deeper dissatisfaction compared to the pretentiousness of the initial ambition.

No project is good enough to provide the satisfaction of the desire; therefore, eliminating everything that comes in its way, except the elimination itself. Following the Lacanian theory of unconsciousness, the self-awareness doubles, and the desiring desire permutates into an intersubjective desire of the Other – or, as expressed by Jacques Lacan – “a man’s desire is the desire of the Other”. Meaning that desire is the object of another’s desire and that desire is also desire for recognition. In our case the desire for project approval is the desire of the Other (fr. l’Autre/A) – be it (imaginary) colleagues, superiors, society, and above all the European Commission and its agencies, officers, and evaluators. However, the problem of the desire is in its cyclical nature since the acknowledgment is never sufficient enough and it is required all over again. In the next week after the successful project submission or approval, a new and even greater “Other call” for proposals emerges and we will be again desperately seeking new recognitions.

It is about never-ending anticipation for the unattainable desire to finally come true – the one that would imply a surplus-enjoyment or Jouissance as indicated by Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze. This is the ultimate glass as anticipated by an alcoholic or the last cigarette of a chain smoker – and every glass or cigarette is becoming penultimate (second-last) during the actual act of drinking or smoking. And as compared to smoking, when the desire is slowly losing itself and finally burns into ashes, the same could happen in projects when the promised achievements are being unrealized and postponed as we are approaching its end.

The end is dodging away from us similarly as in the story of Achilles and the turtle – he can never catch up with it and falls into an infinite regression. And coming back once again to my friend’s initial statement from the Amsterdam brewery, each project figuratively transforms into ashes from the moment it is approved.

  • Lacan, Jacques (2001). Autres écrits. Paris: Éditions du seuil.
  • Žižek, Slavoj (2008). The plague of fantasies. The essential Žižek. London; New York: Verso.

Gregor Cerinšek, IRI UL researcher and project manager, reflects on the background of European projects, i.e. all practices, events and activities that are not publicly discussed, but nevertheless significantly affect the acquisition of projects, their course and long-term success (or failure). He formulates findings and recommendations on the basis of conversations with project managers, coordinators, researchers, supervisors, consultants and evaluators – with all those who are in any way involved in the phenomenon of European projects.

Previous episodes: