by Jacques Lacan

Group 4



A. JACQUES LACAN (1901-1981)
* French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who made prominent contributions to psychoanalysis and philosophy, and has been called "the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud"
* His interdisciplinary work was as a "self-proclaimed Freudian....'It is up to you to be Lacanians if you wish. I am a Freudian'"; and featured the unconscious, the castration complex, the ego, identification, and language as subjective perception.


LACAN in 1 Minute (Video Transcript)
Okay. Jacques Lacan in one minute So Lacan was a French pyschoanalyst and philosopher whose ideas are sort of like Freud on high grade cocaine mixed with hallucinogens, and we mean that in the most admiring sense). Freud had the oral phase and the anal phase (and all that shit), so Lacan has the mirror stage, where he says children first realize they're not symbiotically one with the luscious sucking teat of the mother. Hence we go through life desiring to reconnect with a wholeness with the fictive imago that we think is the real self. Thus we're always seeking the objet petit a, the person or thing that will complete us, even though it doesn't exist. No wonder our perception of body image is so fucked up. As far as the subconscious. Freud's ego, id and superego meet Lacan's imaginary realm, which is how we identify with things pre-language, the symbolic realm (which draw on Sassure's idea of signifier/signified, and caused Lacan to say that the unconscious is structured like a language), and the Real, which if we ever reached it our brains would basically explode. This leads us to the coolest to pronouce Lacanian term, jouissance, intense pleasure and intense pain, which is what we feel when we approach the Real. Oh yeah, and Lacan really liked using weird algebraic formulae.

(1) explain what Lacan means by castration, the phallus, and the phallic function; (2) indicate what Lacan is getting at with the notion that there is no such thing as a sexual relationship; (3) lay out his "formulas of sexuation" in some, though by no means all, of their complexity so as to recenter the debate over sexual difference around what he actually says; and (4) address certain broader issues raised by his account.


Why is it named LINGUISTIC THEORY?

According to Lacan, one must always distinguish between: • reality (the fantasy world we convince ourselves is the world around us) and • the real (a materiality of existence beyond language and thus beyond expressibility).

W H Y …

The development of the subject, in other words, is made possible by an endless misrecognition of the real because of our need to construct our sense of "reality" in and through language. So much are we reliant on our linguistic and social version of "reality" that the eruption of pure materiality (of the real) into our lives is radically disruptive.

W H Y …

And yet, the real is the rock against which all of our artificial linguistic and social structures necessarily fail. It is this tension between the real and our social laws, meanings, conventions, desires, etc. that determines our psychosexual lives. Not even our unconscious escapes the effects of language, which is why Lacan argues that "the unconscious is structured like a language" (Four Fundamental 203).


* Lacan's version of psychosexual development is, therefore, organized around the subject's ability to recognize, first, iconic signs and, then, eventually, language.

* Lacan, like Freud, acknowledged that development varied between individuals and that stages could even exist simultaneously within a given individual


0-6 months of age:
 dominated by a chaotic mix of perceptions, feelings, and needs

 this is the stage, then, when you were closest to the pure materiality of existence (or what Lacan terms "the Real“)
 your body began to be fragmented into specific erogenous zones (mouth, anus, penis, vagina), aided by the fact that your mother tended to pay special attention to these body parts [the neo-natal beginning of socialization (a first step away from the Real)].  lack at this early stage: the mother's breast, her voice, her gaze. Since these privileged external objects could not be perfectly assimilated and could not, therefore, ultimately fulfill your lack, you already began to establish the psychic dynamic (fantasy vs. lack) that would control the rest of your life. 12


6-18 months of age (“the mirror stage”):
entails a "libidinal dynamism" caused by the young child's identification with his own image

 this act marks the primordial recognition of one's self as "I," although at a point "before it is objectified in the dialectic of identification with the other, and before language restores to it, in the universal, its function as subject"  this recognition of the self's image precedes the entrance into language , in which the subject must negotiate his or her relationship with others


mirror stage continuation . . .

 to recognize yourself as "I" is like recognizing yourself as other ("yes, that person over there is me"); this act is thus fundamentally self-alienating
 your feelings towards the image were mixed, caught between hatred ("I hate that version of myself because it is so much better than me") and love ("I want to be like that image"). Note: This "Ideal-I" is important precisely because it represents to the subject a simplified, bounded form of the self, as opposed to the turbulent chaotic perceptions, feelings, and needs felt by the infant.

 this creation of an ideal version of the self gives preverbal impetus to the creation of narcissistic phantasies in the fully developed subject

18 months to 4 years of age:
 further separated you from a connection to the Real  by acquiring language, you entered into what Lacan terms the "symbolic order"; you were reduced into an empty signifier ("I") within the field of the Other, which is to say, within a field of language and culture (which is always determined by those others that came before you)

Language: a radical break from any sense of materiality


18 months to 4 years of age continuation:

 that linguistic position, according to Lacan, is particularly marked by gender differences, so that all your actions were subsequently determined by your sexual position (which, for Lacan, does not have much to do with your "real" sexual urges or even your sexual markers but by a linguistic system in which "male" and "female" can only be understood in relation to each other in a system of language).


A. Castration
 The young child with primitive desires, in coming face to face with the laws and conventions of society (including the prohibitions against incest and murder), will tend to align prohibition with castration (something that is sometimes reinforced by parents if they warn against, for example, masturbation by saying that the child will in some way be punished bodily, eg. by going blind)


 It’s associated with restrictions, prohibition and fear


B. The Phallus and the Phallic Function
 ‘Phallus’ does pertain to the male sex organ alone

 Whereas castration refers to a primordial loss which sets the structure in motion, the phallus is the signifier of that loss.  Perhaps the simplest way of putting this is as follows: Why would a child ever bother to learn to speak if all of its needs were anticipated, if its caretakers fed it, changed it, adjusted the temperature, and so on before it even had a chance to feel hunger, wetness, cold, or any other discomfort? Or if the breast or bottle were always immediately placed in its mouth as soon as it began to cry? If nourishment is never missing, if the desired warmth is never lacking, why would the child take the trouble to speak? . . . 20

phallic function . . .  As Lacan says in the context of his discussion of anxiety, "What is most anxiety producing for the child is when the relationship through which it comes to be—on the basis of lack, which makes it desire—is most perturbed: when there is no possibility of lack, when its mother is constantly on its back"  Without lack, the subject can never come into being and the whole efflorescence of the dialectic of desire is squashed


C. "There's No Such Thing as a Sexual Relationship"

 There is, according to Lacan, no direct relationship between men and women insofar as they are men and women. In other words, they do not "interact“ with each other as man to woman and woman to man. Something gets in the way of their having any such relationship; something skews their interactions.


continuation . . .

 We might even imagine associating masculinity with a sine curve and femininity with a cosine curve, for that would allow us to formulate something we might take to be a sexual relationship as follows: sin2 x + cos2 x = 1 (figure 8.1)


continuation . . .

 according to Lacan: nothing that would qualify as a true relationship between the sexes can be either spoken or written. There is nothing complementary about their relationship, nor is there a simple inverse relationship or some kind of parallelism between them. Rather, each sex is defined separately with respect to a third term. Thus there is only a nonrelationship, an absence of any conceivable direct relationship between the sexes

 Lacan sets out to show (1) that the sexes are defined separately and differently, and (2) that their "partners" are neither symmetrical nor overlapping. Analysands demonstrate day in and day out that their biomedically/genetically determined sex (genitalia, chromosomes, etc.) can be at odds with both socially defined notions of masculinity and femininity and their own choice of sexual partners (still assumed by many people to be based on reproductive instincts). Analysts are thus daily confronted with the inadequacy of defining sexual difference in biological terms.24

a. Distinguishing Between the Sexes
i. Men
• Men are wholly alienated within language. • Men are altogether subject to symbolic castration. • Men are completely determined by the phallic function*.
*phallic function refers to the alienation brought about by language



iii. Beyond Biology


b. The Formulas of Sexuation



i. Masculine Structure


ii. Feminine Structure


Feminine Structure . . .


Feminine Structure . . .

c. A Dissymmetry of Partners


d. Woman Does Not Exist

 Socially speaking, Lacan's assertion that there is no signifier of/for Woman is, no doubt, related to the fact that a woman's position in our culture is either automatically defined by the man she adopts as partner or is defined only with great difficulty. In other words, the search for another way of defining herself is long and fraught with obstacles.
This by no means implies that there will never be an "automatic" or readymade signifier for women

e. Masculine/Feminine—Signifier/Signifierness
 Men and women are alienated in and by language in radically different ways, as witnessed by their disparate relations to the Other, and to S1 and S2. As subjects, they are split differently, and this difference in splitting accounts for sexual difference. Sexual difference thus stems from men and women's divergent relations to the signifier.

f. Other to Herself, Other Jouissance
 The Other jouissance involves a form of sublimation through love that provides full satisfaction of the drives.  The Other jouissance is a jouissance of love, and Lacan relates it to religious ecstasy and to a kind of bodily, corporal jouissance that is not localized in the genitals the way phallic jouissance is (the former is not, he clearly states, so-called vaginal orgasm as opposed to clitoral).

 According to Lacan, the Other jouissance is asexual (whereas phallic jouissance is sexual), and yet it is of and in the body (phallic jouissance involving but the organ as instrument of the signifier).

g. The Truth of Psychoanalysis

 The only truth of psychoanalysis, according to Lacan, is that there is no such thing as a sexual relationship, the problem being to bring the subject to the point of encountering that truth.

D. Existence and Ex-sistence


E. A New Metaphor for Sexual Difference
 One thing most contemporary critics and psychoanalysts would agree upon is that biological differentiations are inadequate, too many people seeming to cross over, at the psychical level, the "hard and fast" lines of biologically determined sexual difference. We thus begin with the hypothesis that there are males with feminine structure (defined in some way) and females with masculine structure (defined in some other way).


A New Metaphor for Sexual Difference . . .
 What is of interest in Lacan's way of defining masculine and feminine structure? For one thing, it involves a new topology: it breaks with the age-old Western conception of the world as a series of concentric circles or spheres, and instead takes as its model such paradoxical topological surfaces as the Möbius band, the Klein bottle, and the cross-cap.

 In essence, the cross-cap is a sphere with a twist: the Lacanian twist, so to speak. The Lacanian twist is, perhaps, the ability to see something beyond the symbolic where philosophy and structuralism see nothing but the same old thing.


A New Metaphor for Sexual Difference . . .


A New Metaphor for Sexual Difference . . .
 Another way to formulate Lacan's new metaphor is with the terms "open" and "closed," as derived from set theory and topology. Like the set constituted by Man, a "closed set" includes its own boundary or limit; like Woman, an "open set" does not include its own boundary or limit. It could be argued that it is at least in part thanks to Lacan's work in set theory, logic, and topology—rather unusual fields of study for most psychoanalysts—that he is able to formulate sexual difference in a new way.

IV. Lacan and Feminism
* Women socialize differently because they don’t experience Castration complex and Oedipus complex *The process of moving through the Oedipus complex is a way of recognizing the need to obey social strictures and to follow a closed differential system of language in which we understand "self" in relation to "others.” *Males give up the link to Real (deny their sexuality) in order to enter into the social world (Law-of-the-Father) Women, therefore, are more lacking and more full.

Evaluation of Lacanian Theory by Feminists
*maintaining the sexist tradition in psychoanalysis; *provides a useful means of understanding gender biases; and *imposed roles opening up new possibilities for feminist theory (ecriture feminine)


Evans. D. (1996). An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. New York and London: Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication Data.

Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Kristeva: On Psychosexual Development." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. January 2012. Purdue U. June 30, 2012. <>.
Fink, B.(1995). The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance. United Kingdom: Princeton University Press.
“Lacan: Key Concepts.” July 6, 2012. <>


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