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Dreams According to Lacan’s

Dreams According to Lacan’s

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, 2000, vol. 6, no. 3, 63–81
Dreams According to Lacan’s re-interpretation of the FreudianUnconscious
Ellie Ragland
Lacan’s well-known e´crit, ‘The Agency of the letter in the unconscious or reasonsince Freud’ (1957) was rst published as ‘the
of the letter in the unconscious’.
This essay rst appeared in an issue of 
la Psychanalyse 
that declared its intention of studying ‘psychoanalysis’ as one of ‘the sciences of man’.
Even though Lacanincluded his piece in the volume, he pointed out in that essay that a classicationsuch as ‘the sciences of man’ was problematic for him. ‘Man’ is inhabited by thesignier in the unconscious, he said, rather than being the one who wields the signierfrom a position of conscious reason and of intentionality. ‘Conscious reason’ and‘intentionality’ become the tools one might equate with demonstrating a science.From a psychoanalytic point of view, ‘conscious reason’ and ‘intentionality’ aremethods of mind at odds with the governing unconscious. Rather, one can onlycreate a science of the unconscious from within a logic particular to it.Posing the question – What determines what one calls ‘reason’ or thought? – in hisrst Seminar, given in 1953–1954,
Lacan later answered in
Le se ´minaire, livre V 
thatsomething – ‘a unary trait – has been knotted to
something else 
’ a void hole of space.The ‘something else’ that
the spoken word that discourse
isconcrete, like Dora’s father’s cigar smoke. This smoke was encapsulated in Dora’smemory because it was linked to something stable, something that ‘resembles thespoken word’. But what resembles the spoken word without being it? In Lacanianparlance, it is the linkage of images (the imaginary) to words (the symbolic) and tothe real of a
ect that he calls a
. It sublimates meaning into a knot made upof its own parts ‘imaginary, symbolic, real and the knot itself, while it is the object
-cause-of-desire that these four ‘orders’ encircle. Thus, the ‘something else’ knottedto something that
a word is the
, made of master signiers (S1) thatLacan calls meaning constellations composed of absolute identicatory unary traits.These are, in turn, made up of the images, the language and the inscriptions of theoral, anal, invocatory and scopic drives on the real of esh. Words or objectsremembered, recalled or called back into memory are the objects one desiresprecisely because they harken back to objects one rst lost, desired, and of whichone retains a concrete unary trace.One came to know the rst objects that cause desire, not because they possess anyoriginary essence such as maternal natural goodness – coming from some privilegedpast moment that one can retrieve in the present. They do retain the trace of the
ISSN 1353-4645 print
ISSN 1460-700X online
2000 Taylor & Francis Ltdhttp:
essence of jouissance. And it is this essence that xes precise traits of the real – rstlaid down in the past – in the outside world of the Other and others who resemblethem. Resemblance, for Lacan, belongs to metonymy, to desire. These ‘objects’ thatresemble something like a
, which is not one, are
or masks. Made upof unary traits, identicatory pieces of narcissism, and the libido and traumata thatcompose the real, these ‘objects’ function like a signpost that says ‘that’s it’, ‘that’s
das Ding an sich 
’. In a sense, the decomposed mask would reveal a puzzle of piecesrst treasured at the moment of loss and the originary e
ort of rending. Theybecome known, in memory, then, as pieces of the metonymic jouissance (essence) of a ‘person behind’ who seeks the particular details of her or his pleasure in a preciseunary trace; not in a whole other or even in whole objects. Perhaps someone desires,beyond all reason, a new car of a certain type. Further details would reveal that thatis because this girl’s father sold that type of car in his business. The desired car is ametonymy of an Oedipal nostalgia. Unary (non-dialectical) traits bind concreteimages, words, and a
ects to the void place of holes
in thought 
that we continually llby desired objects in everyday life and in dreams.
In this essay, I shall work with the thesis that dreams are valuable because they sendmessages to the Other and to ego ideal others about what is lacking in the dreamer’sdesire. In this sense, dreams are tautological, because the message sent is, really, tothe dreamer him or herself. Thus, when Freud remarks that the censor is absent indreams, this would be equivalent to saying that the symbolic order of the secondary-process signier is missing. Or the imaginary father, acting as visible agent of thesuperego, is missing. Neither the well-made narrative, nor the supervising super-ego privileged in everyday life, gives order to the dream. Rather the imaginaryorders the dream, functioning as a virtual real, giving the dream its characterof true-seemingness, or semblance.Lacan maintained in
Le se ´minaire, livre V 
that the distance that separates the spokenword (
 ) – which is lled up by the being of the subject from the empty discoursewhich buzzes around human acts, from the ‘something’ of unconscious meaning,helps to explain the motive of dreams as that of 
unconscious desire 
. In other words,desire takes on the clothes pro
ered by the imaginary. Thus, Lacan’s reinterpretationof Freud’s dream theory, is a departure from Freud’s idea of dreams as wishfulllment. Unconscious desire, for Lacan, is not a wish. Unconscious desire meansthat the unconscious is radically absent from a conscious assessment of meaning,although it is present as the mysterious motivator of intentions and acts. And, as amotivator, it works according to the thought processes typical of an unconsciousprimary-process arrangement of thought, rather than that of secondary-processgrammar or other kinds of motivators such as biology or instinctual causality. Tothe degree that human acts especially dreams – are seemingly irrational, Lacan callsthem impenetrable by the imagination of motives which are irrational insofar as theyare only rationalized in the egoistic system of misrecognition. ‘These [missed] acts,these [forgotten] words reveal a truth from behind. Within what we call freeassociations, dream images, symptoms, a word bearing the truth is revealed. If Freud’sdiscovery has any meaning, it is that truth grabs error by the scru
of the neck inthe mistake’.
If, however, one were to recognize unconscious motives for what they
are, they would no longer be unconscious. Nor would the ego hide the unconscious,while acting as a conscious agency of misrecognition, repression and denial.Thus, we have the rst clue to Lacan’s reinterpretation of Freud’s theory of dreams.They enunciate a repressed desire. The wishes of conscious life are not those thatemanate from the subject of the unconscious, except insofar as these disguise a wishthat concerns desire. Lacan emphasized the fact that Freud rarely used the Germanword for ‘desire’ –
- in his work. The subject of the dream wish
der Wunsch 
is not the libidinally desiring subject whose other face in language is that of lack thatlies between wanting and having. Such lack is not negotiated by simply obtainingthe objects one wants, then, being satised. Desire, rather, is a structural lack-in-being that is negotiated along the imaginary path of ego identications and mirror-stage dual specularities we call transference relations. The dream is distorted, notonly because desire is not sanctioned by the superego of public, conscious life, butalso because the real of sexuality and loss are further covered over in the dream. Itis distorted twice over. Concrete repressed desires speak in dreams and theunbearable real tries to give voice to its own impasses and losses, thus seeking a kindof ‘cure’ in the unconscious space of the dream. The dream bears the freight of thesee
orts at dealing with wounded narcissism. No wonder we have to sleep to dream.Secondary-process uses of language are a kind of obsessional battery of denials andrefusals of the necessity of working with the real deprivations and imaginaryfrustrations whose home is the dream.But the dream does not enter consciousness as a direct rendering of lacks and losses.Rather, it is not only transformed by condensation and displacement – that is, masked – and further distorted in the remembering and recounting of it. Lacan’s remarkson dreams show them as both dialectical among parts of the subject and, at the sametime, one-dimensional. Lafont writes:Topology formalizes the operations which are at work and which,starting with the hole and its edge, construct reality. In this senseLacan could say that ‘it is structure’. ‘[R.S.I.,
unedited seminar 
(1974–1975)] [...] If the hole, @, is known as the Lacanian dimensionpar excellence, topology also presents an irreducibly new element [...]“one” dimension [... which] su
ces to make the word consist. [...]The word is pronounced in “one dimension”, in real time [...] theword, without thickness, nor surface’.
 At the level of the image, the dream word resembles a layering of absolute unarystrokes, more like a painting than a story. When retold in waking life, the dreamerdisplays an internal debate among various parts of her own psyche, embellishing thedialectical part of the dream in a narrative mode, thereby revealing the tensionemitted from the dreamer’s Ideal ego formation vis-a`-vis ego ideal imaginary othersshe wants to satisfy in the Other. In her e
ort to interpret the dream’s opaquemeanings between desires and beliefs that constitute the Ideal ego symbolicformation – its transferential intention towards the other/Other makes it, perforce,dialectical. Not only is the dream a message designated to and for a specic other,it is dreamt within a specic signifying context of an historical local Other. Moreover,

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