Psychoanalytic Theory: Terms and Concepts
Notes from various writers
Compiled by Professor John Lye for the use of students in ENGLISH 4F70, Brock University. As I state on a page previous to this, psychoanalysis is an area in which imaginatively I do not feel very much at home, and my work here may reflect that.
Notes from the reading of some Freud and Lacan, also of the following
authors, marked in the text by the initials given:
KS = Kaja Silverman, The Subject of Semiotics
MS = Madan Sarup, Jacques Lacan
MSk - Meredith Skura, "Psychoanalytic Criticism", in Greenblatt and Gun, Redrawing the Boundaries
J = Frederic Jameson, The Political Unconscious
E = Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction
TJ = Tony Jackson, quotes from some of his posts on the Phil-Lit and Postcolonial Listservs (in some of which he virtually quotes his own book, The Subject of Modernism )
FM = François Meltzer, "Unconscious", in Lentricchia and McLaughlin, Critical Terms for Literary Study
CS = Cohen and Shires, Telling Stories
1. Silverman's point in The Subject of Semiotics is that
psychoanalysis forms a deep
ground for the challenge to the humanist idea of the self: a being who
is fully conscious and fully present to himself, and who lives outside of
language and symbols, which are only tools through which he articulates
the truth and stability of an identity which transcends culture.
2. As she writes on p. 130, The term "subject":
- foregrounds the relationship between ethnology, psychoanalysis, and
semiotics [the sciences which study the world of reality created by signs
and culture, connecting the world of drives and physic needs to the world
of custom and law];
- helps us to conceive of human reality as a construction, as the
of signifying activities which are both culturally specific and generally
- suggests that even desire is culturally instigated, and hence collective;
- de-centers consciousness, relegating it (in distinction to the
where cognitive activity occurs) to a purely receptive capacity.
- Finally, by drawing attention to the divisions which separate one area of psychic activity from another, the term "subject" challenges the value of stability attributed to the individual.
3. The subject belongs to the symbolic order: not only the preconscious (the way we organize and categorize and process experience), but also the unconscious, and even our drives, succumb to (or are formed by, as we know them) a cultural orchestration. In a simple formulation, she points out that if, as in Freudian thought, the unconscious is created through repression, then the unconscious is a product of culture -- as what is repressed is what is taboo, what is taboo is culturally formulated, the forces of suppression are cultural, and the way in which and the symbols under which the repression occurs are cultural. In fact, how we interpret our psychic drives is formulated by our culture; 'interpret' here should be understood in the fullest sense -- this is how we experience them.
4. Freud and Lacan both locate the center of cultural organization and the formation of the subject in the family and sexual differentiation; the signifying activities of both the unconscious and the preconscious are centered in the Oedipal experience, and the Western symbolic order derives its coherence from the phallus or paternal signifier.
In regard to the self and Lacan, Tony Jackson writes, "Given the claims of Lacan and the poststructuralists in general, a particular historically specifiable idea of the self becomes illusory. This does not imply that there is no self at all, unless we want to reserve the word 'self' for just one version of human being. This could be done of course, but then we have to come up with some other word for the kind of human being that is different from the self. Lacan uses the word 'subject' for this purpose, but he hardly avoids the basic problem. The same problem arises with the word "essential." What Lacan and others prove is that the essence of the human self is that it is entirely in-essential, entirely a construction of signs which are also inessential. But of course signs are only inessential if we use one particular version (Derrida would call it metaphysical) of the word 'essential'. For signs are the only essence we can have, given these claims. We still have an essential nature, but for many people it is the wrong kind because it is constructed "only" of signs.
"Also, no matter that we are entirely constructed from always already operating sign systems, our particular articulation of those systems must be utterly unique. Otherwise we could not have any distinction among selves at all. It seems to me that if we are to capture adequately the concept of 'self' here, then we have to say that the nature of the self is that it is at once both entirely constructed from external sign systems, and at the same time an entirely unique articulation of what ever specifiable historical signs. Better said, though getting ever more Heideggerian, is that the self is a function of the ongoing difference (differencing would be yet more accurate) or conflict between utter uniqueness and utter constructedness. Each instant of being is split by these incompatibles. The ego in a sense occurs as a means of unifying or repressing (with varying kinds of success) this splitting. This of course will sound like hogwash if you are not convinced of the opening (it seems to me) arguments about the nature of signification." [posting on PHIL-LIT listserve Mon., 3 Apr. 1995]
1. Repression 2. Sexuality 3. Self 4. The Oedipus complex 5. Dream interpretation 6. The unconscious 7. Disorders (neurosis and psychosis) 8. Transference 9. The earlier theory -- unconscious/ preconscious/ conscious 10. The later theory -- id, ego, superego   11. Cultural Formation
1. repression. Every human has to undergo a
repression of the
pleasure principle by the reality principle; for some, even whole
societies, repression may become excessive and make us ill. The paradox at
the heart of Freud's work is that we come to be what we are only by massive
repression of the elements that have gone into our making. A vital
conception in Freud's thought is that that which is repressed will 'return'
in some way --- among the ways are parapraxis and psychic disorders.
2. sexuality The zoning of pleasure -- through oral, anal and phallic stages; a gradual organization of the libidinal drives. The object of drives is flexible, changeable. Freud considered the biologically appropriate 'phallic' stage to be the proper, mature phase. The drives can be 'hung up', as it were, on objects, which are thus fetishized, wrongly experienced as the goal of the drive.
3. self. The early years of child's life are not those of a unified subject but are a complex, shifting field of libidinal force in which the subject has no centre of identity and has indeterminate boundaries with the external world. The self which emerges, however, from the Oedipus complex (see below) is while more stable, a split subject, torn between conscious and unconscious being, as it is forbidden to consummate the union it desires and so must repress those desires and substitute more acceptable objects of desire.
4. the Oedipus complex. The Oedipus complex is/marks the structure of relations by which we are produced and constituted as subjects. The self must be taken in hand to exist in the world -- formed as an individual, a gendered subject through the Oedipus complex, and the threat of castration. The child desires (union with) mother, the father intervenes and bars this union; the son sees his difference from mother (her lack of a phallus), adjusts to reality by seeing its capability of being like the father who is also his enemy and whose power threatens to castrate him. This is not an easy or unproblematic process but is deeply disturbing and marks the child as he represses his true desire.
This process is less clear for women,
who resign selves to being like the mother, and displace their desire for,
in their case, the father, onto a desire to have a child.
5. dream interpretation. The aspects of a dream are condensation (focusing various meanings in one referent), displacement (something like the use of tropes, allusions), regressive transformation (replacing ideas and feelings with images), secondary revision (making everything fit into a story ): all concepts which can easily be transferred to the function of literature.
6. unconscious Produced through repression, the unconscious peaks in the world through dreams, through parapraxes (slips, ways in which the unconscious speaks despite the vigilance of our conscious selves). The unconscious is powered by libidinal drives, and is an inevitable force in our lives.
- neurosis [obsessional, hysterical, or
the result of internal conflict as the ego defensively blocks the intrusion
of desire; these begin
during the Oedipal phase, arrested or fixated ; analysis uncovers the
hidden causes and acts to re-live, re-interpret the failed development,
in order to relieve the patient of her/his conflicts, so dissolving
- psychosis: the ego comes under the sway of the unconscious -- paranoia, schizophrenia; a harder case to treat than neurosis, as the self has been virtually subsumed.
8. transference. As the patient talks to the analyst, he transfers
conflicts onto analyst: this creates a controlled situation, a form of
repetition of the conflict,
in which conflict the analyst can intervene; what is repaired in analysis
is not quite
what is wrong in real life, but the patient is able to construct a new
for herself, in which she can interpret and make sense of the disturbances
from which she suffers.
9. the early theory of the self: According to Silverman(see particularly Ch. 2 and 4) the earlier theory of the self is a more flexible, dynamic concept than the later. In the early theory, or 'topography', found in The Interpretation of Dreams, the mind is divided into three areas, the memory, the unconscious, and the preconscious. There are as well two temporary conditions, memory, which leaves sensory mnemonic traces (fully accessible to the unconscious, but fully accessible to the conscious self), and the motor response. The unconscious is, of course, not itself accessible to the conscious self except in disguised form. The cultural norms and repressions are stored in the preconscious, which is somewhat available to the conscious self. It is the preconscious which substitutes attainable gratifications for unattainable ones, and which works to substitute thought for sensory and affective memories.
principle is in fact the motive to avoid discomfort, not to seek
pleasure; the discomfort is produced by the conflicts that we inevitably
feel through repressions, prohibitions and so forth.
10. The later theory: the Id operates at the behest of the pleasure principle; the ego, formed through a series of identifications with objects external to the self, carries out the commands of the reality principle; the superego in an internalized ideal image of the father in his power, his privilege, his repressiveness, and his genuinely-experienced superiority.
11. cultural formation (not a Freudian term): [KS] "As a consequence of his successful Oedipalization, he (the subject) will find himself at home in those discourses and institutions which define the current symbolic order in the West, and will derive validation and support from them at a psychic if not at an economic or social level. In other words, he well recognize himself within the mirror of the reigning ideology, even if his race and economic status place him in contradiction to it."
LACAN: Key Terms, basic concepts
"Lacan rewrites Freud's project in such a way as to reveal the
constructed nature of a certain historical self. Like most
poststructuralists Lacan attacks what he generally calls the subject, the
subject supposed to know, the subject of certainty, the Cartesian subject,
the subject of science etc. Often this reads as if he is attacking the
notion of the self in general, but this is not so. All these refer to a
historically institutionalized self-representation. In order to reveal the
basically unhealthy nature of this institutionalized self-image, Lacan has
to show that all subjectivity is constructed and is not simply the
immediate self-presence that it naturally thinks of itself as being. And
he must show how it is constructed, that is, out of signs. Signs of
course are a peculiar kind of presence. Their presence is a kind of
precipitation out of a system of difference: in fact their presence is
essentially bound up with absence. Consequently a being that is
constituted through signs has the same kind of 'essence' as
signs. This kind of revelation, Lacan and others would hold, is just what
the Cartesian subject must reject at all costs, because if it is true,
then this self cannot be what it thinks of itself as being. And since a
whole host of actions in the world derive from the self-image, then a
whole host of actions can suddenly not be what they had
'obviously' been before." (Tony Jackson, PHIL-LIt Discussion
List, 23 May 1995)
1.1. Lacan questions the symmetry and equilibrium between signifier and signified in Saussure; he reverses the relationship signifier/ signified to S/s, Signifier over signified. The bar separating the two stresses the cleavage between them. The signified slips beneath the signifier, resists attempts to pin it down. Signifiers refer not to objects but to the chain of language, that is, to other signifiers -- Lacan uses the metaphor of the signifying chain, the chain of speech comprising the rings of a necklace that is a ring in another necklace made of rings. The characteristic sense of being a person or having a personality comes from the self-perpetuating imperative that propels the signifying chain. Lacan posits, then, the primacy to the signifier -- an active, colonizing power over the signified.
1.2. the signifier is paradigmatic -- selected from and having value in relation to other signifiers, and, hence, commutable (able to be replaced by another signifier); the signified is sytagmatic, or contextual, having meaning in relation to other signifieds (as in, 'meaning is only cultural') [KS, approx.]
1.3. the signifier represents a conceptualized reality , not reality itself [KS, approx.]
1.4. essentially, anything that means in a subject's world -- or to put it another way, any thing that for the subject is the world -- is a signifier (a signifier is not just language) however all of our signifiers are mediated by language. [KS, approx.] TJ has this lengthier explanation:
For the most part we "naturally" tend to assume that signifiers ultimately refer to a signified that is itself and only itself, apart from signs. The signified seems naturally the real thing, and the signifier simply stands in for that real thing which in itself seems to need no sign in order to exist. But in fact the real thing is just what you cannot have once you have signs. Once you have signs, you can have, for human consciousness, "only" re-presentation. No self-identical presence apart from signs can be discovered once you have signs at all, because as Saussure argued (and the Saussurean turn to difference is indispensable for all this), meaning is a function of a systematized difference between signs. The real thing is constantly deferred, constantly getting away precisely as we turn our (inevitably linguistic) attention to it. Think again of what it means that we should ever need signs. Try to imagine something existing for a human consciousness apart from meaning which is always a function of signs.
1.5. we can have agreement on what words mean because there are points
de capiton, upholstery studs, that keep the signifier from shifting
out of our control.
1.6. like Heidegger Lacan believes it is impossible to step outside of language; in a revision of Heidegger's empty and full speech, Lacan sees speech that carries the illusion of the intact ego as empty, in the Imaginary register: the subject does not speak but is spoken. Full speech follows the acceptance of the self as existing in the domain of inter-subjectivity: one ceases to speak of oneself as an object. [MS]
1.7. analysts listen to what is not in the speech of the analysand, what s/he is not saying -- listen to the patient's Other. [MS]
1.8. all speech is an effect; there is a difference between what a speaker means and what the speakers words mean. (they mean more, Other, what is lacking, etc.) [MS]
1.9. speech is the dimension by which the subject's desires are expressed and articulated [MS]
1.10. however, language is of the Other, its meanings can never be fully controlled, its prefabricated structures are inadequate to the expression of one's desire [MSk]
1.11. the law that the father introduces is in particular the law of the language system. [MS]
1.12. a reservation: that Lacan in locating the self and reality only in language, thus effectively writing out visual and physical experience; this appears to deracinate us from biology, history. [MSk] Lacan and other theorists (beginning with Pierce) might reply that however 'real' biology and history (as existence in a concrete universe) are, they are only experienced as real though our signifying systems.
2. Metaphor and metonymy
2.1. following Jakobson; the function of selection, based on similarity, is seen as metaphoric; Lacan as associates this with Freud's conception of condensation (in The Interpretation of Dreams); the combinative function, based on contiguity, is seen as metonymic; Lacan associates this with displacement. (each has a tint of the other). The metaphoric is associated with the concept of symptom, the metonymic with the origin of de sire. Lacan's preference is for metaphor -- the ability of language to signify something other than what it says. All words are metaphoric, mean much more than they mean -- are extensions in various ways: see "The Insistence of the Letter...". Metaphor is a system of implying and imputing value. Metaphor implies choice, choice implies value judgment. [MS]
3. Language and absence
3.1. a signifier is always not its signified; language assures/creates the absence of the object;
3.2. the subject as constituted in language is not itself -- the enunciating 'I' and the enunciated 'I' are different; the illusion of unity as all that is given -- as language creates the illusion of the unity and stability of objects and the world. [MS]
3.3. "Language is empty because it is just an endless process of difference and absence: instead of being able to possess anything in its fullness, the child will now simply move from one signifier to another, along a linguistic chain which is potentially infinite. Along this metonymic chain of signifiers, meanings, or signifies, will be produced; but not object or person can ever be fully present in this chain, because as we have seen with Derrida its effect is to divide and differentiate all identities." [E]
3.4. "This potentially endless movement from one signifier to another is what Lacan means by desire. All desire springs from a lack, which it strives continually to fill. Human language works by such a lack: the absence of the real objects which signs designate, the fact that words have meaning only be virtue of the absence and exclusion of others." To enter language, then, is to become a prey to desire: language, Lacan remarks, is what hollows being into desire. [E]
4. Unary and binary signifiers
4.1. The unary signifier is as it were the initial signifying break, the trace of repression suffered by the drives -- as the mark of the subject's rupture with its being. The drives have represented the last, already partially mediated contact of the subject with its being; the unary signifier attests to the permanent disappearance of that being....The unconsciousness is the area where these self-losses as well as future ones are inscribed. [KS]
4.2. The lack of referent or order opens up a world of play, of differences, in which the binary signifiers make their structures: the non-meaning of the unary signifier initiates the process of endless displacements and substitutions which comprise signification within the Lacanian scheme. [KS]
4.3. At the same time, by deracinating the subject from contact with itself, and opening it up to the structure of binary signifiers, the unary signifier deprives the subject of any autonomy, is henceforth wholly subordinated to the field of social meaning and desire. [KS]
4.4. the binary signifier is the construction of signification in terms of difference and relation, and this forms a closed signifying system -- e.g. father and mother form each the meaning of the other, neither is complete without the other. This is the creation of paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships.
4.5. Lacan attributes to the binary signifier a number of momentous and closely connected events: the creation of meaning; the exclusion of the drives; the formation of the unconscious; the emergence of the subject into the symbolic order, otherwise known as the field of the Other; and the inauguration of desire. [KS].
5. the Mirror Stage
5.1. At the mirror stage the infant is able to imagine itself as a coherent and self-governing entity; there is a sense of difference from the Other -- the burden of identity is to be not whole; the Other warrants the existence of the child; this is an armor of alienating identity , the child moves from insufficiency to anticipation. [MS]
5.2. identity does not equal identification; the subject will never be truly himself or herself ; when the fragmented body gives way to the armor of the subject, the ego is formed.
5.3. the ego is the enemy, constituted by alienating identifications [MS]
5.4. human subjects continue through life to look for an imaginary wholeness and unity [MS]
5.5. the subject is comprised of lack, the lack of being that results from the subject's dependence on the Other. The Other is the place where the subject is born. [MS]
5.6. the narcissistic process whereby by identifying with images we bolster up a fictive sense of unitary selfhood. [E]
5.7. "The mirror event in Lacan's terms is the opening, so to speak, of the ego. The child must go through some initial form of recognizing itself as a separate object in the world. In order to identify itself as a self, it must see itself as a self among selves. But this if you think about it is an odd moment. How can you identify yourself unless you are some how apart from yourself precisely in order to recognize yourself? This is true implicitly in the very notion of self-identification. You must be a split self in order to think of yourself as a self at all, and in fact in order to be a self as we take that word. The concept of self-identification requires both sameness and difference to make sense, though typically the difference is misrecognized by the infant." (TJ Jun. 1/95))
6. the subject -- see Ego, see also language, etc.
6.1. the subject and the self are socially produced [MS]; the subject is constituted by the symbolic, by the intersubjective system of language and culture into which the subject is born [MSk]
6.2. the subject is not a person but a position, an 'I' dehinged relationally, by his or her difference from the 'you' he or she addresses [MSk]
7. the Imaginary
7.1. a condition in which we lack any defined center of self, in which what self we have seems to pass into objects and objects into it, in a ceaseless closed exchange [E]
7.2. the Imaginary surely drives from the experience of the image -- and of the imago --and we are meant to retain its spatial and visual connotations. [J]
7.3. The Imaginary may thus be described as a peculiar spatial configuration, whose bodies primarily entertain relationships of inside/outside with one another, which is them traversed and reorganized by that primordial rivalry and transitivistic substitution of imagoes, that indistinction of primary narcissism and aggressivity, from which our conceptions of good and evil derive.[J]
7.4. "That order of the subject's experience which is dominated by identification and duality... not only precedes the symbolic order, which introduces the subject to language and Oedipal triangulation, but continues to coexist with it afterward. The two registers complement each other, the symbolic establishing the differences which are such and essential part of cultural existence, and the imaginary making it possible to discover correspondences and homologies. The imaginary order is most classically exemplified by the mirror stage." [KS]
8. The Real: history itself [J] ; That which is in the world but beyond signification.
9. The Ego
9.1. identity does not equal identification; the subject will never be truly himself or herself ; when the fragmented body gives way to the armor of the subject the ego is formed.
9.2. the ego is the enemy, constituted by alienating identifications [MS]
9.3. human subjects continue through life to look for an imaginary wholeness and unity [MS]
9.4. the subject is comprised of lack, the lack of being that results from the subject's dependence on the Other. The Other is the place where the subject is born. [MS]
9.5. the ego is a function or effect of a subject which is always dispersed, never identical with itself, strung out along a the chains of the discourses which constitute it. [E]
9.6. the imaginary unity of the enunciated and enunciating I [E]
9.7. the pronoun I stands in for the ever-elusive subject, which will always slip through the nets of any particular piece of language; and this is equivalent to saying that I cannot mean and be simultaneously. I am not which I think, I think where I am not, wrote Lacan. [E]
9.8 "To be ever so brief, the ego, to Lacan, is what is formed as the human organism is absorbed into signs or symbols and in the process squeezed out of what Lacan calls the real. Now while there is always an ego, the nature of any particular ego can vary depending first on both the sign systems through which it is constituted and its particular processing through those signs. So though an analyst always confronts a personal history and an individual voice, he also confronts generic voices that are speaking the person, so to speak." (Tony Jackson Phil-Lit post April 95)
9.9 "When Lacan speaks of the unconscious as being structured like a language, he means that its nature and interpretation are analogous to language as described by Saussure and those who have come after him. Confronted with the self, we have the speaking voice, the "conscious" self, the one who is called into a kind of presence through a name. But this self, like any piece of language cannot occur in a vacuum. Its total meaning/being cannot be present just in it self, as total meaning/being is fundamentally not present in language. A given piece of language takes on meaning because of its structured difference from other pieces of language. What we have before us is the one piece of language, but when we search out its meanings, we turn to systematically related pieces of language that are at once indispensably "present" and entirely absent, that is unconscious. In a sense unspoken rules of discourse operate to repress, to filter out all but a particular set of meanings, though as literary types know especially well, the filter can be ever so changeable. The manifest self, similarly, must arise from a systematic and unconscious repression of the difference by which it is constituted. We are getting structured, so to speak, by and as signs in the most fundamental way before we can think or reflect upon meaning, value etc. We have as adults a given sense of self, but that given or manifest self is inhabited or constituted by a system of signs that are not readily available to consciousness precisely because the consciousness in question is given its nature by the system of signs and much of the specificity of that system was set in place before all but the most rudimentary thinking was possible. An observer can, however, from studying the actual signs/language of the self in question, the way the self speaks, make inferences about the constitutive signification (unconscious) of that self." (TJ 31 Mar 1995)
10.1. for Lacan what is important about Freud's ideas of the unconscious is not that the unconscious exists but that it has a structure [MS]
10.2. the rhetoric of the unconscious is its deep structures which create meaning through certain patterns of repetition and exchange.
10.3. the subject [the self] is comprised of lack, the lack of being that results from the subject s dependence on the Other. The Other is the place where the subject is born. [MS]
10.4. the unconscious comes to being only in language [MSk]
10.5. the unconscious is Other -- the human subject is divided; the unconscious has a linguistic structure; the subject is inhabited by the Other; [MS]
10.6. the unconscious always attains its goal, even if by deferral. the unconscious is the discourse of the Other because the Subject does not know that he desires what the Other desires. That Other is, in Lacan, the Oedipal drama (the father is the real Other) [parents are Object grande A ]; but it is also that part of the self which the Subject always fails to recognize (or misrecognizes, as Lacan says) because he does not know it is a part of himself; his own unconscious. [FM]
10.7. the separation from the mother under the pressure of the law -- the desire for the mother is driven underground; it is only when the child acknowledges the taboo or prohibition which the father symbolizes that it represses its guilty desire, and that desire just is what is called the unconscious [E]
10.8. the unconscious is just a continual movement and activity of signifiers, whose signifieds are often inaccessible to us because they are repressed. [E]
10.9. The unconsciousness is the area where the self-losses of signification, of the unary signifier cutting the subject off from its last vestige of contact with itself, the already partially-mediated drives, are inscribed. [KS]
10.10. the unconscious is the discourse of the Other because the Subject does not know that he desires what the Other desires. That Other is in Lacan the Oedipal drama (the father of the real Other); but it is also that part of himself which the Subject always fails to recognize (or misrecognizes, as Lacan says) because he does not know it is a part of himself; his own unconscious. [FM]
10.11. the unconscious is not some seething, tumultuous, private region inside us, but an effect of our relations with one another. The unconscious is, so to speak, outside rather than within us -- or rather it exists between us , as our relationships do. It is elusive not so much because it is buried deep within our minds, but because it is a kind of vast, tangled network which surrounds us and weaves itself through us, and which can therefore never be pinned down. [E]
11. The Law of the Father
11.1. refers in the first place to the social taboo on incest, but in a sense more importantly, it is a recognition of the larger familial and social structure of which the self is (only a) part [E] in a role which is already there for it, laid down for it by the practices of the society into which it has been born.
11.2. the law that the father introduces in particular is the law of the language system. [MS]
11.3. the appearance of the Father drives the child from its mother's body and in doing so drives the desire for union underground into the unconscious (creates the unconscious). The Law and the unconscious appear at the same moment.
11.4. The mirror stage initiates a process which culminates in the Oedipus process or paternal metaphor. The child submits to the Law of the Father. The paternal figure serves to separate the child from an all-encompassing relation with the mother. The Father represents the Law, embodies the power of the phallus and the threat of castration. Accepting his authority and phallic status is the precondition of the child s having a place within the socio-symbolic order, a name and a speaking position. ... The Phallus subjects both sexes to the Symbolic. [MS]
11.5. the separation of from the mother under the pressure of the law -- the desire for the mother is driven underground; it is only when the child acknowledges the taboo or prohibition which the father symbolizes that it represses its guilty desire, and that desire just is what is called the unconscious [E]
11.6. the unconscious is the discourse of the Other because the Subject does not know that he desires what the Other desires. That Other is in Lacan the Oedipal drama (the father of the real Other); but it is also that part of himself which the Subject always fails to recognize (or misrecognizes, as Lacan says) because he does not know it is a part of himself; his own unconscious. [FM]
12. The symbolic register
12.1. Lacan mapped on to Freud's concept of the oedipal process -- crossing the frontier out of the Imaginary, the dyadic world of mother and child, to the Father's name and his Law; this is the realm of the Symbolic. Lacan followed Levi-Strauss in idea that culture based on incest, on difference and rules: Levi-Strauss use the model of Linguistics, so too Lacan [a fundamental Structuralist move]. [MS]
12.2. The symbolic register of culture and language introduces a mediating third term to the idea of the subject and the missing complement (imaginary and mirror stages, approx.), to structure subjectivity around a lack, thereby providing the subject access, not to pleasure, but to desire....A subject can desire only in terms of the division that occurs through the symbolic representation of the desired object (the object 'a'), which in turn symbolizes the impossibility of ever satisfying desire completely. (see 13)
12.3. The symbolic register provides the terms by which culture engenders subjectivity through its organizations of unconscious desires. As Lacan describes them, these terms are quite specific to the patriarchal order of modern western culture (i.e. the symbolic register is culture-specific) [CS]
12.4. As Oedipal complex: The Father triangulates the dual relationship of Mother and Child. Representing the Law of the Father (the cultural rules), as the prohibition of the Child s desire for the Mother, the phallus (not -- but with difficulty not -- to be confused with the penis) then symbolically (through symbols) regulates desire through the threat of castration. Male and Female are constructed (in the Symbolic) in relation to the castrating lack symbolized by the phallus. Male: I have that lack; Female: I am that Lack. Male and Female are symbolic positions; as such they are variable, can be taken up , etc. [CS] (see 11)
also see KS pp. 183 - 4
12.5 The subject oscillates between the imaginary and the symbolic register -- she does not ;leave the imaginary behind when she enters the symbolic, but in the works of MacCabe, qu in CS, we are constantly imagining ourselves granting some full meaning to the words we speak [the imaginary register], and constantly being surprised to find them determined by relations outside our control [the symbolic register].
13. Lack, desire
13.1. lack is created by three main moves: the territorialization of the drives, the mirror stage in which the self realizes distinctiveness and otherness -- limits to the self -- and signification, at which point the self is inducted into the symbolic order.
13.2. The potentially endless movement from one signifier to another is what Lacan means by desire. All desire springs from a lack, which it strives continually to fill. Human language works by such a lack: the absence of the real objects which signs designate, the fact that words have meaning only be virtue of the absence and exclusion of others. To enter language, then, is to become a prey to desire: language, Lacan remarks, is what hollows being into desire. [E]
13.3. Desire commences as soon as the drives are split off from the subject, consigned forever to a state of non-representation and non-fulfillment. In short, it begins with the subject's emergence into meaning. [KS]
13.4. Desire has its origins not only in the alienation of the subject from its being, but in the subject s perception of its distinctness from the objects with which it earlier identified. [KS]
13.5. severed from our mother's body, we have to make do instead with substitute objects, what Lacan calls the 'object little a', with which we try vainly to plug the gap at the center of our being. We move among substitutes for substitutes, metaphors for metaphors, never able to recover the pure (if fictive) self-identity and self-completion which we knew in the imaginary. [E]
14.1. what the analyst must do is reply to what he/she hears; that reply sends back to the subject in inverted form what s/he is saying that s/he could never hear, if s/he did not hear it coming from the analyst. Thus is accomplished the recognition that is the goal of analysis, the recognition by the subject. The subject must come to know his or her own drives, which are insisting, unbeknownst to him or her, in his or her discourse and actions. The analyst returns to the subject what the subject was saying so the subject can recognize it and stop saying it. The analyst encourages the analysand to encounter his or her own Other. [MS]
15.1 in representations of experience (film, narrative) the reader is constantly faced with occupying subject positions called forth by the text, and hence is created or at least is positioned by the text. This required insertion of the self into the text is known as suture, particularly in cinematic versions of Lacanian theory.
16. Lacanian literary criticism
In general terms Lacanian theory applied to literature
16.1 supports poststructural ideas of the fragmentation of the self and links these ideas to the idea of intertextuality -- that all textuality is made up of meanings constituted by filiation and difference which are broadly cultural in scope, and which force one to challenge the borders of the text. Insofar as a text has borders these borders are then diagnostic (they tell us something about the meanings, the implications, teh connections,of the text), and they link rather than separating.
16.2. has also pointed to the key functions of lack and desire in not only in the constitution of various texts but in writing itself. It has opened language and reference to a broad field of potential, and dynamic, meaning and has in creased awareness of both the ambiguity and the complexity/density of structured language use.
16.3. ties together the writer and culture, the text and the reader, at the level of language, which level for Lacan is also both cultural, and an access to what is lost, is desired, haunts and escapes us, which losses and desires form the substance, such as there is one, of our selves.
16.4. draws attention to structures of the text -- repetitions and gaps and closures -- as essential and indeed key parts of the meaning of the text. In this it is close to much of what deconstruction does and looks at.
16.5. focuses often not on the text itself (if that could be considered an separate object) but on the exchange mediated by (or, created or named by) the text; on structures of the text, but as they are dynamically constituted or realized by the reader [MSk, sort of].
16.6. Both the author and the reader are positions, not individuals, just as the text is a process-field, not an object.
16.7. As textuality structures language, they both and together engage us in the processes of desire and bring us closer to the other, and away from the illusory narcissism of the individual self: we enter in a dynamic and concentrated way the world of the unconscious which is also the world of the other: the world of meaning and being which is culturally constructed and so connects us to the meanings of our culture and to the presence and power of the drives which create and sustain us of persons in a world of persons.
16.8. as we read, we are in effect analyzed by the text -- positioned, opened to the nature and reality of our desires and our relations, brought closer to the reality of our beings which is our unconscious; interpreters, instead of mastering the text a re mastered by it. [MSk, in reference to Felman s work in particular].
16.9 builds on Freud's by looking for the unconscious in the text's performative aspects, in being suspicious of its rhetorical as well as representational strategies -- as Freud's too often were not. It therefore emphasizes a new dimension of reading. [MSk]
16.10. MSk writes that "In an effort to counter reductive analogizing either to a signified reality (the New Critic's heresy of paraphrase) or the psychology of a unified author or reader (the intentional or affective fallacies), Lacanian criticism is in danger of short-circuiting the particularity of this language." -- and goes on to cite the dissolving of structure into psychic process and the expansion of reference to a limitless field of reference chains. Her remark is in a sense a typical anti-poststructural claim, in that she wants to reinstate the text as a privileged, separate and internally-controlled object. A Lacanian might read this desire for wholeness and retrievable identity with some suspicion.
16.11. because subjectivity and the unconscious are created by language and work like language does, Lacan, in apparently erasing the boundaries between literature and psychoanalysis, has in fact placed reading and literature in a privileged position, because:
- ultimately in his understanding we are (as meaningful beings, as human) readers whose reading takes us further and further into the intricacies of the self and culture, and the (self-)deceits of those who would assert and enforce a reality build on what is known and observable; [sort of from MSk]
- we are beings who live in the presence of (or, what is the same thing, in the manifest absence of) what they desire but cannot have, desiring a completeness and a mastery which, through the very conditions of the world, they can never have;
- are being is constituted through language, hence all is text, in a sense different from Derrida s there is nothing outside of the text.