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|Born||13 April 1901|
|Died||9 September 1981 (aged 80)|
|Notable ideas||Mirror phase|
Graph of desire
|Born||13 April 1901|
|Died||9 September 1981 (aged 80)|
|Notable ideas||Mirror phase|
Graph of desire
|Part of a series of articles on|
Jacques Marie Émile Lacan (French: [ʒak lakɑ̃]; 13 April 1901 – 9 September 1981) was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who has been called "the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud". Giving yearly seminars in Paris from 1953 to 1981, Lacan influenced many leading French intellectuals in the 1960s and the 1970s, especially those associated with poststructuralism. His ideas had a significant impact on critical theory, literary theory, 20th-century French philosophy, sociology, feminist theory, film theory and clinical psychoanalysis.
Lacan was born in Paris, the eldest of Emilie and Alfred Lacan's three children. His father was a successful soap and oils salesman. His mother was ardently Catholic—his younger brother went to a monastery in 1929 and Lacan attended the Jesuit Collège Stanislas. During the early 1920s, Lacan attended right-wing Action Française political meetings, of which he would later be highly critical, and met the founder, Charles Maurras. By the mid-1920s, Lacan had become dissatisfied with religion and became an atheist. He quarreled with his family over this issue.
In 1920, on being rejected as too thin for military service, he entered medical school and, in 1926, specialised in psychiatry at the Sainte-Anne Hospital in Paris. He was especially interested in the philosophies of Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger and attended the seminars about Hegel given by Alexandre Kojève.
In 1931 Lacan became a licensed forensic psychiatrist. In 1932 he was awarded the Doctorat d'état for his thesis On Paranoiac Psychosis in its Relations to the Personality (De la Psychose paranoïaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalité suivi de Premiers écrits sur la paranoïa. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1975.) It had a limited reception in the 1930s because it was not published until four decades later, but it did find acclaim, especially by surrealist artists. Also in 1932, Lacan translated Freud's 1922 text, "Über einige neurotische Mechanismen bei Eifersucht, Paranoia und Homosexualität" as "De quelques mécanismes névrotiques dans la jalousie, la paranoïa et l'homosexualité". It was published in the Revue française de psychanalyse. In Autumn of that same year, Lacan began his training analysis with Rudolph Lowenstein, which was to last until 1938.
Two years later, Lacan was elected to the Société psychanalytique de Paris. In January 1934, he married Marie-Louise Blondin and they had their first child, a daughter called Caroline. Their second child, a son named Thibaut, was born in August 1939.
In 1936, Lacan presented his first analytic report at the Congress of the International Psychoanalytical Association in Marienbad on the "Mirror Phase". The congress chairman, Ernest Jones, terminated the lecture before its conclusion, since he was unwilling to extend Lacan's stated presentation time. Insulted, Lacan left the congress to witness the Berlin Olympic Games. No copy of the original lecture remains.
Lacan was an active intellectual of the inter-war period—he associated with André Breton, Georges Bataille, Salvador Dalí, and Pablo Picasso. He attended the mouvement Psyché that Maryse Choisy founded. He published in the Surrealist journal Minotaure and attended the first public reading of James Joyce's Ulysses. "[Lacan's] interest in surrealism predated his interest in psychoanalysis," Dylan Evans explains, speculating that "perhaps Lacan never really abandoned his early surrealist sympathies, its neo-Romantic view of madness as 'convulsive beauty', its celebration of irrationality, and its hostility to the scientist who murders nature by dissecting it". Others would agree that "the importance of surrealism can hardly be over-stated... to the young Lacan... [who] also shared the surrealists' taste for scandal and provocation, and viewed provocation as an important element in psycho-analysis itself".
The Société Psychanalytique de Paris (SPP) was disbanded due to Nazi Germany's occupation of France in 1940. Lacan was called up to serve in the French army at the Val-de-Grâce military hospital in Paris, where he spent the duration of the war. His third child, Sibylle, was born in 1940.
The following year, Lacan fathered a child, Judith (who kept the name Bataille), with Sylvia Bataille (née Maklès), the estranged wife of his friend Georges Bataille. There are contradictory accounts of his romantic life with Sylvia in southern France during the war. The official record shows only that Marie-Louise requested divorce after Judith's birth and that Lacan married Sylvia in 1953.
After the war, the SPP recommenced their meetings. Lacan visited England for a five-week study trip, where he met the English analysts Wilfred Bion and John Rickman. Bion's analytic work with groups influenced Lacan, contributing to his own subsequent emphasis on study groups as a structure within which to advance theoretical work in psychoanalysis. In 1949, Lacan presented a new paper on the mirror stage to the sixteenth IPA congress in Zurich.
In 1951, Lacan started to hold a private weekly seminar in Paris, in which he urged what he described as "a return to Freud" that would concentrate on the linguistic nature of psychological symptomatology. Becoming public in 1953, Lacan's 27-year-long seminar was highly influential in Parisian cultural life, as well as in psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice.
In 1953, after a disagreement over the variable-length session, Lacan and many of his colleagues left the Société Parisienne de Psychanalyse to form a new group, the Société Française de Psychanalyse (SFP). One consequence of this was to deprive the new group of membership within the International Psychoanalytical Association.
Encouraged by the reception of "the return to Freud" and of his report "The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis," Lacan began to re-read Freud's works in relation to contemporary philosophy, linguistics, ethnology, biology, and topology. From 1953 to 1964 at the Sainte-Anne Hospital, he held his Seminars and presented case histories of patients. During this period he wrote the texts that are found in the collection Écrits, which was first published in 1966. In his seventh Seminar "The Ethics of Psychoanalysis" (1959–60), Lacan defined the ethical foundations of psychoanalysis and presented his "ethics for our time"—one that would, in the words of Freud, prove to be equal to the tragedy of modern man and to the "discontent of civilization." At the roots of the ethics is desire: analysis' only promise is austere, it is the entrance-into-the-I (in French a play on words between l'entrée en je and l'entrée en jeu). "I must come to the place where the id was," where the analysand discovers, in its absolute nakedness, the truth of his desire. The end of psychoanalysis entails "the purification of desire." This text formed the foundation of Lacan's work for the subsequent years. He defended three assertions: that psychoanalysis must have a scientific status; that Freudian ideas have radically changed the concepts of subject, of knowledge, and of desire; and that the analytic field is the only place from which it is possible to question the insufficiencies of science and philosophy.
Starting in 1962, a complex negotiation took place to determine the status of the SFP within the IPA. Lacan's practice (with its controversial indeterminate-length sessions) and his critical stance towards psychoanalytic orthodoxy led, in August 1963, to the IPA setting the condition that registration of the SFP was dependent upon the removal of Lacan from the list of SFP analysts. With the SFP's decision to honour this request in November 1963, Lacan had effectively been stripped of the right to conduct training analyses and thus was constrained to form his own institution in order to accommodate the many candidates who desired to continue their analyses with him. This he did, on 21 June 1964, in the "Founding Act" of what became known as the École Freudienne de Paris (EFP), taking "many representatives of the third generation with him: among them were Maud and Octave Mannoni, Serge Leclaire...and Jean Clavreul".
With Lévi-Strauss and Althusser's support, Lacan was appointed lecturer at the École Pratique des Hautes Etudes. He started with a seminar on The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis in January 1964 in the Dussane room at the École Normale Supérieure. Lacan began to set forth his own approach to psychoanalysis to an audience of colleagues that had joined him from the SFP. His lectures also attracted many of the École Normale's students. He divided the École freudienne de Paris into three sections: the section of pure psychoanalysis (training and elaboration of the theory, where members who have been analyzed but haven't become analysts can participate); the section for applied psychoanalysis (therapeutic and clinical, physicians who either have not started or have not yet completed analysis are welcome); and the section for taking inventory of the Freudian field (concerning the critique of psychoanalytic literature and the analysis of the theoretical relations with related or affiliated sciences). In 1967 he invented the procedure of the Pass, which was added to the statutes after being voted in by the members of the EFP the following year.
1966 saw the publication of Lacan's collected writings, the Écrits, compiled with an index of concepts by Jacques-Alain Miller. Printed by the prestigious publishing house Éditions du Seuil, the Écrits did much to establish Lacan's reputation to a wider public. The success of the publication led to a subsequent two-volume edition in 1969.
By the 1960s, Lacan was associated, at least in the public mind, with the far left in France. In May 1968, Lacan voiced his sympathy for the student protests and as a corollary his followers set up a Department of Psychology at the University of Vincennes (Paris VIII). However, Lacan's unequivocal comments in 1971 on revolutionary ideals in politics draw a sharp line between the actions of some of his followers and his own style of "revolt".
In 1969, Lacan moved his public seminars to the Faculté de Droit (Panthéon), where he continued to deliver his expositions of analytic theory and practice until the dissolution of his School in 1980.
Throughout the final decade of his life, Lacan continued his widely followed seminars. During this period, he developed his concepts of masculine and feminine jouissance and placed an increased emphasis on the concept of "the Real" as a point of impossible contradiction in the "Symbolic order". Lacan continued to draw widely on various disciplines, working closely on classical Chinese literature with François Cheng and on the life and work of James Joyce with Jacques Aubert. This late work had the greatest influence on feminist thought, as well as upon the informal movement that arose in the 1970s or 1980s called post-modernism. The growing success of the Écrits, which was translated (in abridged form) into German and English, led to invitations to lecture in Italy, Japan and the United States. He gave lectures in 1975 at Yale, Columbia and MIT.
Lacan's failing health made it difficult for him to meet the demands of the year-long Seminars he had been delivering since the fifties, but his teaching continued into the first year of the eighties. After dissolving his School, the EFP, in January 1980, Lacan travelled to Caracas to found the Freudian Field Institute on 12 July.
The Overture to the Caracas Encounter was to be Lacan's final public address. His last texts from the spring of 1981 are brief institutional documents pertaining to the newly formed Freudian Field Institute.
Lacan died on 9 September 1981.
Lacan's "return to Freud" emphasizes a renewed attention to the original texts of Freud, and included a radical critique of Ego psychology, whereas "Lacan's quarrel with Object Relations psychoanalysis" was a more muted affair. Here he attempted "to restore to the notion of the Object Relation... the capital of experience that legitimately belongs to it", building upon what he termed "the hesitant, but controlled work of Melanie Klein... Through her we know the function of the imaginary primordial enclosure formed by the imago of the mother's body", as well as upon "the notion of the transitional object, introduced by D. W. Winnicott... a key-point for the explanation of the genesis of fetishism". Nevertheless, "Lacan systematically questioned those psychoanalytic developments from the 1930s to the 1970s, which were increasingly and almost exclusively focused on the child's early relations with the mother... the pre-Oedipal or Kleinian mother"; and Lacan's rereading of Freud—"characteristically, Lacan insists that his return to Freud supplies the only valid model"—formed a basic conceptual starting-point in that oppositional strategy.
Lacan thought that Freud's ideas of "slips of the tongue," jokes, and the interpretation of dreams all emphasized the agency of language in subjective constitution. In "The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious, or Reason Since Freud," he proposes that "the unconscious is structured like a language." The unconscious is not a primitive or archetypal part of the mind separate from the conscious, linguistic ego, he explained, but rather a formation as complex and structurally sophisticated as consciousness itself. One consequence of the unconscious being structured like a language is that the self is denied any point of reference to which to be "restored" following trauma or a crisis of identity.
Andre Green objected that "when you read Freud, it is obvious that this proposition doesn't work for a minute. Freud very clearly opposes the unconscious (which he says is constituted by thing-presentations and nothing else) to the pre-conscious. What is related to language can only belong to the pre-conscious". Freud certainly contrasted "the presentation of the word and the presentation of the thing... the unconscious presentation is the presentation of the thing alone" in his metapsychology. However "Dylan Evans, Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis... takes issue with those who, like Andre Green, question the linguistic aspect of the unconscious, emphasizing Lacan's distinction between das Ding and die Sache in Freud's account of thing-presentation". Green's criticism of Lacan also included accusations of intellectual dishonesty, he said, "[He] cheated everybody… the return to Freud was an excuse, it just meant going to Lacan."
Lacan's first official contribution to psychoanalysis was the mirror stage, which he described as "formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience." By the early 1950s, he came to regard the mirror stage as more than a moment in the life of the infant; instead, it formed part of the permanent structure of subjectivity. In "the Imaginary order," their own image permanently catches and captivates the subject. Lacan explains that "the mirror stage is a phenomenon to which I assign a twofold value. In the first place, it has historical value as it marks a decisive turning-point in the mental development of the child. In the second place, it typifies an essential libidinal relationship with the body-image".
As this concept developed further, the stress fell less on its historical value and more on its structural value. In his fourth Seminar, "La relation d'objet," Lacan states that "the mirror stage is far from a mere phenomenon which occurs in the development of the child. It illustrates the conflictual nature of the dual relationship."
The mirror stage describes the formation of the Ego via the process of objectification, the Ego being the result of a conflict between one's perceived visual appearance and one's emotional experience. This identification is what Lacan called alienation. At six months, the baby still lacks physical co-ordination. The child is able to recognize themselves in a mirror prior to the attainment of control over their bodily movements. The child sees their image as a whole and the synthesis of this image produces a sense of contrast with the lack of co-ordination of the body, which is perceived as a fragmented body. The child experiences this contrast initially as a rivalry with their image, because the wholeness of the image threatens the child with fragmentation—thus the mirror stage gives rise to an aggressive tension between the subject and the image. To resolve this aggressive tension, the child identifies with the image: this primary identification with the counterpart forms the Ego. Lacan understands this moment of identification as a moment of jubilation, since it leads to an imaginary sense of mastery; yet when the child compares their own precarious sense of mastery with the omnipotence of the mother, a depressive reaction may accompany the jubilation.
Lacan calls the specular image "orthopaedic," since it leads the child to anticipate the overcoming of its "real specific prematurity of birth." The vision of the body as integrated and contained, in opposition to the child's actual experience of motor incapacity and the sense of his or her body as fragmented, induces a movement from "insufficiency to anticipation." In other words, the mirror image initiates and then aids, like a crutch, the process of the formation of an integrated sense of self.
In the mirror stage a "misunderstanding" (méconnaissance) constitutes the Ego—the "me" (moi) becomes alienated from itself through the introduction of an imaginary dimension to the subject. The mirror stage also has a significant symbolic dimension, due to the presence of the figure of the adult who carries the infant. Having jubilantly assumed the image as their own, the child turns their head towards this adult, who represents the big Other, as if to call on the adult to ratify this image.
Lacan often used an algebraic symbology for his concepts: the big Other is designated A (for French Autre) and the little other is designated a (italicized French autre). He asserts that an awareness of this distinction is fundamental to analytic practice: "the analyst must be imbued with the difference between A and a, so he can situate himself in the place of Other, and not the other." Dylan Evans explains that:
"1. The little other is the other who is not really other, but a reflection and projection of the Ego. He [autre] is simultaneously the counterpart and the specular image. The little other is thus entirely inscribed in the imaginary order.
2. The big Other designates radical alterity, an other-ness which transcends the illusory otherness of the imaginary because it cannot be assimilated through identification. Lacan equates this radical alterity with language and the law, and hence the big Other is inscribed in the order of the symbolic. Indeed, the big Other is the symbolic insofar as it is particularized for each subject. The Other is thus both another subject, in his radical alterity and unassimilable uniqueness, and also the symbolic order which mediates the relationship with that other subject."
"The Other must first of all be considered a locus," Lacan writes, "the locus in which speech is constituted". We can speak of the Other as a subject in a secondary sense only when a subject occupies this position and thereby embodies the Other for another subject.
In arguing that speech originates not in the Ego nor in the subject but rather in the Other, Lacan stresses that speech and language are beyond the subject's conscious control. They come from another place, outside of consciousness—"the unconscious is the discourse of the Other." When conceiving the Other as a place, Lacan refers to Freud's concept of psychical locality, in which the unconscious is described as "the other scene".
"It is the mother who first occupies the position of the big Other for the child," Dylan Evans explains, "it is she who receives the child's primitive cries and retroactively sanctions them as a particular message". The castration complex is formed when the child discovers that this Other is not complete because there is a "Lack (manque)" in the Other. This means that there is always a signifier missing from the trove of signifiers constituted by the Other. Lacan illustrates this incomplete Other graphically by striking a bar through the symbol A; hence another name for the castrated, incomplete Other is the "barred Other."
Feminist thinkers have both utilised and criticised Lacan's concepts of castration and the Phallus. Some feminists have argued that Lacan's phallocentric analysis provides a useful means of understanding gender biases and imposed roles, while other feminist critics, most notably Luce Irigaray, accuse Lacan of maintaining the sexist tradition in psychoanalysis. For Irigaray, the Phallus does not define a single axis of gender by its presence/absence; instead, gender has two positive poles. Like Irigaray, Jacques Derrida, in criticizing Lacan's concept of castration, discusses the phallus in a chiasmus with the hymen, as both one and other. Other feminists, such as Judith Butler, Avital Ronell, Jane Gallop, and Elizabeth Grosz, have interpreted Lacan's work as opening up new possibilities for feminist theory.
The Imaginary is the field of images and imagination, and deception. The main illusions of this order are synthesis, autonomy, duality, and similarity. Lacan thought that the relationship created within the mirror stage between the Ego and the reflected image means that the Ego and the Imaginary order itself are places of radical alienation: "alienation is constitutive of the Imaginary order." This relationship is also narcissistic.
In The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan argues that the Symbolic order structures the visual field of the Imaginary, which means that it involves a linguistic dimension. If the signifier is the foundation of the Symbolic, the signified and signification are part of the Imaginary order. Language has Symbolic and Imaginary connotations—in its Imaginary aspect, language is the "wall of language" that inverts and distorts the discourse of the Other. On the other hand, the Imaginary is rooted in the subject's relationship with his or her own body (the image of the body). In Fetishism: the Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real, Lacan argues that in the sexual plane the Imaginary appears as sexual display and courtship love.
Insofar as identification with the analyst is the objective of analysis, Lacan accused major psychoanalytic schools of reducing the practice of psychoanalysis to the Imaginary order. Instead, Lacan proposes the use of the Symbolic to dislodge the disabling fixations of the Imaginary—the analyst transforms the images into words. "The use of the Symbolic," he argued, "is the only way for the analytic process to cross the plane of identification."
In his Seminar IV, "La relation d'objet," Lacan argues that the concepts of "Law" and "Structure" are unthinkable without language—thus the Symbolic is a linguistic dimension. This order is not equivalent to language, however, since language involves the Imaginary and the Real as well. The dimension proper to language in the Symbolic is that of the signifier—that is, a dimension in which elements have no positive existence, but which are constituted by virtue of their mutual differences.
The Symbolic is also the field of radical alterity—that is, the Other; the unconscious is the discourse of this Other. It is the realm of the Law that regulates desire in the Oedipus complex. The Symbolic is the domain of culture as opposed to the Imaginary order of nature. As important elements in the Symbolic, the concepts of death and lack (manque) connive to make of the pleasure principle the regulator of the distance from the Thing ("das Ding an sich") and the death drive that goes "beyond the pleasure principle by means of repetition"—"the death drive is only a mask of the Symbolic order."
By working in the Symbolic order, the analyst is able to produce changes in the subjective position of the analysand. These changes will produce imaginary effects because the Imaginary is structured by the Symbolic.
Lacan's concept of the Real dates back to 1936 and his doctoral thesis on psychosis. It was a term that was popular at the time, particularly with Émile Meyerson, who referred to it as "an ontological absolute, a true being-in-itself". Lacan returned to the theme of the Real in 1953 and continued to develop it until his death. The Real, for Lacan, is not synonymous with reality. Not only opposed to the Imaginary, the Real is also exterior to the Symbolic. Unlike the latter, which is constituted in terms of oppositions (i.e. presence/absence), "there is no absence in the Real." Whereas the Symbolic opposition "presence/absence" implies the possibility that something may be missing from the Symbolic, "the Real is always in its place." If the Symbolic is a set of differentiated elements (signifiers), the Real in itself is undifferentiated—it bears no fissure. The Symbolic introduces "a cut in the real" in the process of signification: "it is the world of words that creates the world of things—things originally confused in the "here and now" of the all in the process of coming into being." The Real is that which is outside language and that resists symbolization absolutely. In Seminar XI Lacan defines the Real as "the impossible" because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the Symbolic, and impossible to attain. It is this resistance to symbolization that lends the Real its traumatic quality. Finally, the Real is the object of anxiety, insofar as it lacks any possible mediation and is "the essential object which is not an object any longer, but this something faced with which all words cease and all categories fail, the object of anxiety par excellence."
Lacan's conception of desire is central to his theories and follows Freud's concept of Wunsch. The aim of psychoanalysis is to lead the analysand and to uncover the truth about his or her desire, but this is possible only if that desire is articulated. Lacan wrote that "it is only once it is formulated, named in the presence of the other, that desire appears in the full sense of the term." This naming of desire "is not a question of recognizing something which would be entirely given. In naming it, the subject creates, brings forth, a new presence in the world." Psychoanalysis teaches the patient "to bring desire into existence." The truth about desire is somehow present in discourse, although discourse is never able to articulate the entire truth about desire—whenever discourse attempts to articulate desire, there is always a leftover or surplus.
In "The Signification of the Phallus," Lacan distinguishes desire from need and demand. Need is a biological instinct that is articulated in demand, yet demand has a double function: on the one hand, it articulates need, and on the other, acts as a demand for love. Even after the need articulated in demand is satisfied, the demand for love remains unsatisfied. This remainder is desire. For Lacan, "desire is neither the appetite for satisfaction nor the demand for love, but the difference that results from the subtraction of the first from the second." Lacan adds that "desire begins to take shape in the margin in which demand becomes separated from need." Hence desire can never be satisfied, or as Slavoj Žižek puts it, "desire's raison d'être is not to realize its goal, to find full satisfaction, but to reproduce itself as desire."
It is also important to distinguish between desire and the drives. The drives are the partial manifestations of a single force called desire. Lacan's concept of the "objet petit a" is the object of desire, although this object is not that towards which desire tends, but rather the cause of desire. Desire is not a relation to an object but a relation to a lack (manque).
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Lacan maintains Freud's distinction between drive (Trieb) and instinct (Instinkt). Drives differ from biological needs because they can never be satisfied and do not aim at an object but rather circle perpetually around it. The true source of jouissance is the repetition of the movement of this closed circuit. Lacan posits the drives as both cultural and symbolic constructs—to him, "the drive is not a given, something archaic, primordial." He incorporates the four elements of the drives as defined by Freud (the pressure, the end, the object and the source) to his theory of the drive's circuit: the drive originates in the erogenous zone, circles round the object, and returns to the erogenous zone. The three grammatical voices structure this circuit:
The active and reflexive voices are autoerotic—they lack a subject. It is only when the drive completes its circuit with the passive voice that a new subject appears. Despite being the "passive" voice, the drive is essentially active: "to make oneself be seen" rather than "to be seen." The circuit of the drive is the only way for the subject to transgress the pleasure principle.
Lacan identifies four partial drives: the oral drive (the erogenous zones are the lips, the partial object the breast), the anal drive (the anus and the faeces), the scopic drive (the eyes and the gaze) and the invocatory drive (the ears and the voice). The first two relate to demand and the last two to desire. If the drives are closely related to desire, they are the partial aspects in which desire is realized—desire is one and undivided, whereas the drives are its partial manifestations.
Building on Freud's The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Lacan long argued that "every unsuccessful act is a successful, not to say 'well-turned', discourse", highlighting as well "sudden transformations of errors into truths, which seemed to be due to nothing more than perseverance". In a late seminar, he generalised more fully the psychoanalytic discovery of "truth—arising from misunderstanding", so as to maintain that "the subject is naturally erring... discourse structures alone give him his moorings and reference points, signs identify and orient him; if he neglects, forgets, or loses them, he is condemned to err anew".
Because of "the alienation to which speaking beings are subjected due to their being in language", to survive "one must let oneself be taken in by signs and become the dupe of a discourse... [of] fictions organized in to a discourse". For Lacan, with "masculine knowledge irredeemably an erring", the individual "must thus allow himself to be fooled by these signs to have a chance of getting his bearings amidst them; he must place and maintain himself in the wake of a discourse... become the dupe of a discourse... les non-dupes errent".
Lacan comes close here to one of the points where "very occasionally he sounds like Thomas Kuhn (whom he never mentions)", with Lacan's "discourse" resembling Kuhn's "paradigm" seen as "the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on shared by the members of a given community".
The "variable-length psychoanalytic session" was one of Lacan's crucial clinical innovations, and a key element in his conflicts with the IPA, to whom his "innovation of reducing the fifty-minute analytic hour to a Delphic seven or eight minutes (or sometimes even to a single oracular parole murmured in the waiting-room)" was unacceptable. Lacan's variable-length sessions lasted anywhere from a few minutes (or even, if deemed appropriate by the analyst, a few seconds) to several hours. This practice replaced the classical Freudian "fifty minute hour".
With respect to what he called "the cutting up of the 'timing'", Lacan asked the question, "Why make an intervention impossible at this point, which is consequently privileged in this way?" By allowing the analyst's intervention on timing, the variable-length session removed the patient's—or, technically, "the analysand's"—former certainty as to the length of time that they would be on the couch. When Lacan adopted the practice, "the psychoanalytic establishment were scandalized"—and, given that "between 1979 and 1980 he saw an average of ten patients an hour", it is perhaps not hard to see why: "psychoanalysis reduced to zero", if no less lucrative.
At the time of his original innovation, Lacan described the issue as concerning "the systematic use of shorter sessions in certain analyses, and in particular in training analyses"; and in practice it was certainly a shortening of the session around the so-called "critical moment" which took place, so that critics wrote that 'everyone is well aware what is meant by the deceptive phrase "variable length"... sessions systematically reduced to just a few minutes'. Irrespective of the theoretical merits of breaking up patients' expectations, it was clear that "the Lacanian analyst never wants to 'shake up' the routine by keeping them for more rather than less time".
"Whatever the justification, the practical effects were startling. It does not take a cynic to point out that Lacan was able to take on many more analysands than anyone using classical Freudian techniques... [and] as the technique was adopted by his pupils and followers an almost exponential rate of growth became possible".
Accepting the importance of "the critical moment when insight arises", object relations theory would nonetheless quietly suggest that "if the analyst does not provide the patient with space in which nothing needs to happen there is no space in which something can happen". Julia Kristeva, if in very different language, would concur that "Lacan, alert to the scandal of the timeless intrinsic to the analytic experience, was mistaken in wanting to ritualize it as a technique of scansion (short sessions)".
Most of Lacan's psychoanalytic writings from the forties through to the early sixties were compiled with an index of concepts by Jacques-Alain Miller in the 1966 collection, titled simply Écrits. Published in French by Éditions du Seuil, they were later issued as a two-volume set (1970/1) with a new "Preface". A selection of the writings (chosen by Lacan himself) were translated by Alan Sheridan and published by Tavistock Press in 1977. The full 35-text volume appeared for the first time in English in Bruce Fink's translation published by Norton & Co. (2006). The Écrits were included on the list of 100 most influential books of the 20th century compiled and polled by the broadsheet Le Monde.
Lacan's writings from the late sixties and seventies (thus subsequent to the 1966 collection) were collected posthumously, along with some early texts from the nineteen thirties, in the Éditions du Seuil volume Autres écrits (2001).
Although most of the texts in Écrits and Autres écrits are closely related to Lacan's lectures or lessons from his Seminar, more often than not the style is denser than Lacan's oral delivery, and a clear distinction between the writings and the transcriptions of the oral teaching is evident to the reader.
Jacques-Alain Miller is the sole editor of Lacan's seminars, which contain the majority of his life's work. "There has been considerable controversy over the accuracy or otherwise of the transcription and editing", as well as over "Miller's refusal to allow any critical or annotated edition to be published". Despite Lacan's status as a major figure in the history of psychoanalysis, some of his seminars remain unpublished. Since 1984, Miller has been regularly conducting a series of lectures, "L'orientation lacanienne." Miller's teachings have been published in the US by the journal Lacanian Ink.
Lacan's writing is notoriously difficult, due in part to the repeated Hegelian/Kojèvean allusions, wide theoretical divergences from other psychoanalytic and philosophical theory, and an obscure prose style. For some, "the impenetrability of Lacan's prose... [is] too often regarded as profundity precisely because it cannot be understood". Arguably at least, "the imitation of his style by other 'Lacanian' commentators" has resulted in "an obscurantist antisystematic tradition in Lacanian literature".
The broader psychotherapeutic literature has little or nothing to say about the effectiveness of Lacanian psychoanalysis. Though a major influence on psychoanalysis in France and parts of Latin America, Lacan's influence on clinical psychology in the English-speaking world is negligible, where his ideas are best known in the arts and humanities.
A notable exception is the works of Annie G. Rogers (A Shining Affliction; The Unsayable: The Hidden Language of Trauma), which credit Lacanian theory for many therapeutic insights in successfully treating sexually abused young women.
Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont have criticised Lacan's use of terms from mathematical fields such as topology, accusing him of "superficial erudition" and of abusing scientific concepts that he does not understand. However, they note that they do not want to enter into the debate over the purely psychoanalytic part of Lacan's work.
Other critics have dismissed Lacan's work wholesale. François Roustang called it an "incoherent system of pseudo-scientific gibberish", and quoted linguist Noam Chomsky's opinion that Lacan was an "amusing and perfectly self-conscious charlatan". The former Lacanian analyst, Dylan Evans, eventually dismissed Lacanianism as lacking a sound scientific basis and as harming rather than helping patients, and has criticized Lacan's followers for treating his writings as "holy writ". Richard Webster has decried what he sees as Lacan's obscurity, arrogance, and the resultant "Cult of Lacan". Others have been more forceful still, describing him as "The Shrink from Hell" and listing the many associates—from lovers and family to colleagues, patients, and editors—left damaged in his wake.
His type of charismatic authority has been linked to the many conflicts among his followers and in the analytic schools he was involved with. His intellectual style has also come in for much criticism. Eclectic in his use of sources, Lacan has been seen as concealing his own thought behind the apparent explication of that of others. Thus his "return to Freud" was called by Malcolm Bowie "a complete pattern of dissenting assent to the ideas of Freud . . . Lacan's argument is conducted on Freud's behalf and, at the same time, against him".
Bowie has also suggested that Lacan suffered from both a love of system and a deep-seated opposition to all forms of system. Lacan has similarly been seen as trapped in the very phallocentric mastery his language ostensibly sought to undermine. The result—Castoriadis would maintain—was to make all thought depend upon himself, and thus to stifle the capacity for independent thought among all those around him.
Their difficulties were only reinforced by what Didier Anzieu described as a kind of teasing lure in Lacan's discourse; "fundamental truths to be revealed . . . but always at some further point". This was perhaps an aspect of the sadistic narcissism that feminists especially detected in his nature.
But though to many he was a narcissist, indulging omnipotent fantasies through his systems of thought, Lacan can be seen as an example of what Michael Maccoby has called a "productive narcissist"; one of those who through their power to draw others into their visions have eventually changed the very parameters of our cultural world.
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Selected works published in English listed below. More complete listings can be found at Lacan Dot Com.
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