Jacques Lacan

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Jacques Marie Émile Lacan (1901 – 1981) was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist.

After decades of obscurity Lacan came to prominence in the French intellectual scene of the 1960s and '70s with an unorthodox fusion of Freudian psychoanalysis and structural linguistics. Lacan's ideas are little used in psychotherapy in the English-speaking world, but are influential in academic analysis of literature, film and culture.

Quotes[edit]

  • The man who is born into existence deals first with language; this is a given. He is even caught in it before his birth.

The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho Analysis (1978)[edit]

  • The important thing is not that the unconscious determines neurosis- of that one Freud can quite happily, like Pontius Pilot, wash his hands. Sooner or later, something would have been found, humeral determinate, for example- for Freud, it would be quite immaterial. For what the unconscious does it to show us the gap through which neurosis recreates a harmony with a real- a real that may not be determined.
    • The Freudian Unconscious and Ours
  • It is not without effect that, even in a public speech, one directs one's attention at subjects, touching them at what Freud calls the navel- the navel of the dreams, he writes , to designate their ultimately unknown centre- which is simply, like the anatomical navel that represents it, that gap of which I have already spoken.
    • The Freudian Unconscious and Ours
  • Discontinuity, then, is the essential form in which the unconscious first appears to us as a phenomenon-discontinuity, in which something is manifested as a vacillation.
    • The Freudian Unconscious and Ours
  • Nature provides-I must use the word- signifies, and these signifies organize human relation in a creative way, providing them with structures and shaping them.
    • The Freudian Unconscious and Ours
  • There are thoughts in this field of the beyond of consciousness, and it is impossible to represent these thoughts other than in the same homology of determination in which the subject of the I think finds himself in relation to the articulation of the I doubt.
    • The Unconscious and Repetition
  • By, the subject, where it was, where it has always been, the dream. The ancients recognized all kinds of things in dreams, including, on occasion, messages from the gods—and why not? The ancients made something of these messages from the gods. And, anyway—perhaps you will glimpse this in what I shall say later—who knows, the gods may still speak through dreams. Personally, I don't mind either way. What concerns us is the that envelops these messages, the network in which, on occasion, something is caught. Perhaps the voice of the gods makes itself heard, but it is a long time since men lent their ears to them in their original state—it is well known that the ears are made not to hear with.
    • Of the Network of Signifiers
  • Pleasure limits the scope of human possiblity-the pleasure principle is a principle of homeostasis. Desire, on the other hand, finds its boundary, its strict relation, its limit, and it is in the relation to this limit that it is sustained as such, crossing the threshold imposed by the pleasure principle.
    • Of The Subject of Certainty p. 31
  • It is on this step that depends the fact that one can call upon the subject to re-enter himself in the unconscious—for, after all, it is important to know who one is calling. It is not the soul, either mortal or immortal, which has been with us for so long, nor some shade, some double, some phantom, nor even some supposed psycho-spherical shell, the locus of the defences and other such simplified notions. It is the subject who is called— there is only he, therefore, who can be chosen. There may be, as in the parable, many called and few chosen, but there will certainly not be any others except those who are called. In order to understand the Freudian concepts, one must set out on the basis that it is the subject who is called—the subject of Cartesian origin. This basis gives its true function to what, in analysis, is called recollection or remembering. Recollection is not Platonic reminiscence —it is not the return of a form, an imprint, a eidos of beauty and good,a supreme truth, coming to us from the beyond. It is something that comes to us from the structural necessities, something humble, born at the level of the lowest encounters and of all the talking crowd that precedes us, at the level of the structure of the signifier, of the languages spoken in a stuttering, stumbling way, but which cannot elude constraints whose echoes, model, style can be found, curiously enough, in contemporary mathematics.
    • Of the Network of Signifiers
  • The father, the Name-of-the-father, sustains the structure of desire with the structure of the law- but the inheritance of the father is that which Kierkegaard designates for us, namely, his sin.
    • Of the Network of Signifiers

Quotes about Lacan[edit]

  • Because very few cultural theorists have a background in psychology, it can be difficult for them to assess the strengths or weaknesses of Lacanian accounts. Too much, then, has to be taken on trust or distrust. [...] Lacan’s psychological ideas, despite being widely used, have seldom been evaluated directly in terms of their evidential bases.
    • Michael Billig, "Lacan's Misuse of Psychology: Evidence, Rhetoric and the Mirror Stage" Theory, Culture & Society Vol 23, No 4, 2006, pp. 1-26
  • Whether used in the clinic or the seminar room, Lacan's ideas are hopelessly inadequate because they are predicated on a false theory of human nature.
    • Dylan Evans, “From Lacan to Darwin”, in The Literary Animal; Evolution and the Nature of Narrative, eds. Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2005, pp.38-55.
  • As I became more familiar with Lacan's teachings, the internal contradictions and lack of external confirmation became ever more apparent. And as I tried to make sense of Lacan's bizarre rhetoric, it became clearer to me that the obfuscatory language did not hide a deeper meaning, but was in fact a direct manifestation of the confusion inherent in Lacan's own thought. But whereas most of Lacan's commentators preferred to ape the master's style, and perpetuate the obscurity, I wanted to dissipate the haze and expose whatever was underneath – even if it meant seeing that the emperor was naked.
    • Dylan Evans, “From Lacan to Darwin”, in The Literary Animal; Evolution and the Nature of Narrative, eds. Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2005, pp.38-55.
  • Like all British children, I had been given a smattering of physics, chemistry and biology at school, but this consisted solely of isolated facts and figures, without any overall view. Even worse, my high school science gave me no understanding of the process of scientific discovery, the dialectic of evidence and argument. I went on to study languages and linguistics at university, but even here the emphasis was just as much on literature as on the scientific study of language. It is hardly surprising, then, that when I came across the ideas of Jacques Lacan, shortly after finishing my first degree, I was unable to spot their serious defects. Now I understand more about how science works, those defects are so crashingly obvious that I sometimes feel ashamed of myself for being so naïve.
    • Dylan Evans, “From Lacan to Darwin”, in The Literary Animal; Evolution and the Nature of Narrative, eds. Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2005, pp.38-55.
  • Lacan's most widely quoted maxim is, “The unconscious is structured like a language,” and like that sentence, Lacan's whole oeuvre rests on a certain idea of language. His proclaimed "return to Freud" meant remedying Freud's failure to use "modern" linguistics. "Modern" linguistics for Lacan, however, means turn-of-the-century linguistics---specifically, Ferdinand de Saussure's. The trouble is that very little of Saussure's linguistics stands up today, after nearly a century's work in linguistics. [...] In writing this essay, for example, I had trouble finding linguistic texts that even refer to Saussure. Saussure's views are not held, so far as I know, by modern linguists, only by literary critics, Lacanians, and the occasional philosopher.
  • Lacan goes wrong by relying (quite uncritically!) on Saussure's signifier-signified conception of language. It is understandable that Lacan, when he began to write in the 1930s, should learn Saussure's turn-of-the-century linguistics. But even at the end of his life he and now his followers write about signifiers and signifieds as though the Chomskyan revolution in linguistics had never happened. Contemporary literary theorists tirelessly quote Saussure. But why? Today's linguists no more use Saussure's model than today's physicists use the concept of phlogiston.
    I do not mean to suggest that linguists have all adopted Chomsky's views. They are still controversial, and he would be the first to acknowledge that they are subject to revision in the light of further evidence. Linguists who reject Chomsky's ideas, however, are trying to offer alternatives or to go beyond Chomsky. They are not turning back to Saussure. My point is not that Chomsky is right but that Saussure and Lacan are wrong.
  • Saussure was trying to de-psychologize linguistics. But Lacan re- psychologizes Saussure's linguistics. Lacan is using a formal theory of language to explain empirical events in the mind. Saussure was trying precisely not to say what goes on in your or my mind when we understand a word or make up a sentence, and, within the limits of his theory, he succeeded. Lacan, however, applies Saussure's carefully apsychological theory to describe precisely what it avoided describing.
  • Lacan's synthesis of Freud, Hegel and structuralism was often held to contain deep truths about the nature of desire in general and the way women live, or have lived, should or should not live in particular.
    • Kevin Mulligan, “Post Continental Philosophy: Nosological Notes” Stanford French Review special issue, "Philosophy and the Analytic-Continental Divide", vol. 17, nos. 2-3, ed. Pascal Engel, pp. 133-150.
  • If you want to see what’s wrong with Ivy League education, look at The Beauty Myth, that book by Naomi Wolf. This is a woman who graduated from Yale magna cum laude, is a Rhodes scholar, and she cannot write a coherent paragraph. This is a woman who cannot do historical analysis, and she is a Rhodes scholar? If you want to see the damage done to intelligent women today in the Ivy League, look at that book. It’s a scandal. Naomi Wolf is an intelligent woman. She has been ill-served by her education. But if you read Lacan, this is the result. Your brain turns to pudding. She has a case to make. She cannot make it. She’s full of paranoid fantasies about the world. Her education was completely removed from reality.

  • Lacan, Derrida and Foucault are the perfect prophets for the weak, anxious academic personality, trapped in verbal formulas and perennially defeated by circumstances. They offer a self-exculpating cosmic explanation for the normal professorial state of resentment, alienation, dithering passivity and inaction.
    • Camille Paglia, "Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf", first published in Arion, Spring 1991, reprinted in Sex, Art and American Culture: New Essays(1992), Vintage, ISBN 9780679741015, p. 211
  • Lacan is a tyrant who must be driven from our shores. Narrowly trained English professors who know nothing of art history or popular culture think they can just wade in with Lacan and trash everything in sight.
    • Camille Paglia, "Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf", first published in Arion, Spring 1991, reprinted in Sex, Art and American Culture: New Essays(1992), Vintage, ISBN 9780679741015, p. 213
  • Robert Caserio recently said to me, “The whole profession has become a vast mimicry. The idea that there is open debate is an absolute fiction. There is only the Foucault monologue, the Lacan monologue, the Derrida monologue. There is no room for creative disagreement. No deviation from what is approved is tolerated.” These monologues are really one, the monotonous drone of the School of Saussure, which has cast its delusional inky cloud over modern academic thought. Never have so many been wrong about so much. It is positively idiotic to imagine that there is no experience outside of language. … It has been a truism of basic science courses for decades in America that the brain has multiple areas of function and that language belongs only to specific areas, injured by trauma and restored by surgery or speech therapy.
    • Camille Paglia, "Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf", first published in Arion, Spring 1991, reprinted in Sex, Art and American Culture: New Essays (1992), Vintage, ISBN 9780679741015, p. 214
  • Lacan portrayed this break [of his psychoanalytic school from the International Psychoanalytical Association] as the result of an ideological conflict between the old school and the progressive, true Freudians represented by himself. Actually it was about his greed. He needed to maximise his throughput of patients in order to finance his lavish lifestyle. (He died a multi-millionaire.) He started to shorten his sessions, without a pro rata reduction of fee, to as little as ten minutes. Unfortunately, Freudian theory fixes the minimum length of a session at 50 minutes. Lacan was therefore repeatedly cautioned by the IPA.
    • Raymond Tallis, ‘The Shrink from Hell’ in The Times Higher Education Supplement, 31 October 1997, p. 20., a review of Elizabeth Roudinesco’s Jacques Lacan & Co.: A History of Psychoanalysis in France, 1925–1985, translated by Jeffrey Mehlman, published by Free Associations Books, 1990.
  • [Lacan’s] clients committed suicide at a rate that would have alarmed a man armed with less robust self-confidence. He claimed that it was due to the severity of the cases he took on but it may also have had something to do with the way he would start and stop analysis at whim and would sometimes cast aside, at very short notice, people who had been under his ‘care’ for years.
    • Raymond Tallis, ‘The Shrink from Hell’ in The Times Higher Education Supplement, 31 October 1997, p. 20., a review of Elizabeth Roudinesco’s Jacques Lacan & Co.: A History of Psychoanalysis in France, 1925–1985, translated by Jeffrey Mehlman, published by Free Associations Books, 1990.
  • On the principle of credo ut intelligam his disciples still believed [Lacan] even when, in his last few years, he was manifestly suffering from multi-infarct dementia.
    • Raymond Tallis, ‘The Shrink from Hell’ in The Times Higher Education Supplement, 31 October 1997, p. 20., a review of Elizabeth Roudinesco’s Jacques Lacan & Co.: A History of Psychoanalysis in France, 1925–1985, translated by Jeffrey Mehlman, published by Free Associations Books, 1990.
  • If [Lacan’s biographer] Elizabeth Roudinesco’s account is accurate, [Lacan] must have made a hash of his first case presentation to the Société Neurologique: his patient, she says, supposedly had ‘pseudobulbar disorders of the spinal cord’—a neurological impossibility. (The innocence with which Roudinesco reports all kinds of clinical cock-ups makes this book a particularly disturbing read for a medic.) Abandoning neurology was obviously a wise career move. Unfortunately, though he lacked all the qualities necessary to make a half-way decent doctor (e.g., kindness, common sense, humility, clinical acumen and solid knowledge), Lacan did not abandon medicine altogether, only its scientific basis.
    • Raymond Tallis, ‘The Shrink from Hell’ in The Times Higher Education Supplement, 31 October 1997, p. 20., a review of Elizabeth Roudinesco’s Jacques Lacan & Co.: A History of Psychoanalysis in France, 1925–1985, translated by Jeffrey Mehlman, published by Free Associations Books, 1990.
  • Lacan's writings, in addition to being bad or lunatic psychiatry, are also bad mathematics.
    • Raymond Tallis, "Is this the beginning of the end of the dark ages in the humanities?", PN Review no. 128, June 1999; review of Sokal & Bricmont's Intellectual Impostures, translated into English as Fashionable Nonsense
  • Lacan's thought certainly does possess a complex logical pattern. Concepts which have been introduced in one place are rarely if ever clarified by references to them elsewhere in his writing. But they are continually modified and overlaid with yet more layers of complexity and ostensible significance.
    • Richard Webster, “The cult of Lacan: Freud, Lacan and the mirror stage”
  • The Lacan phenomenon is a bizarre one. Attempts to understand it have not been helped by the insistence of many of Lacan's apologists that the 'pure' theoretical issues can be separated from Lacan's therapeutic practice and the extraordinary manner in which he behaves towards his disciples. Such an attitude is no more defensible in the case of Lacan than it is in the case of Freud himself. Indeed, perhaps the only real resemblance between Lacan and Freud is that both played the role of prophet or messiah with extraordinary effectiveness and both attracted disciples who treated their person as sacred and their word as law.
    • Richard Webster, “The cult of Lacan: Freud, Lacan and the mirror stage”
  • There can be little doubt that the fear of not being at a sufficiently high intellectual level, of having missed something which 'everyone important sees to feel is so crucial' has played a very large role in Lacan's success. Lacan himself - apparently quite deliberately - played upon this fear. When he appeared in a two-part television special in France in 1974, he began the programme by announcing that 'most of his audience were surely idiots, and that he was surely in error in trying to make them understand.' Such intellectual bullying is characteristic of Lacan's style. In his seminars, highly intelligent people were persuaded to listen attentively to propositions which were for the most part obscure, incomprehensible and entirely without

explanatory value.

  • As a Marxist, let me add: if anyone tells you Lacan is difficult, this is class propaganda by the enemy.

External links[edit]

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