Key Concepts of Lacanian Psychoanalysis

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In this classic work, eight crucial Lacanian ideas are explained through detailed exploration of the theoretical and/or practical context in which Lacan introduced them, the way in which they developed throughout his works, and the questions they were designed to answer. The book does not presuppose any familiarity with Lacanian theory on the part of the reader, nor a prior acquaintance with Lacan's Ecrits or seminars. Originally published in 1998, the ideas within are more relevant than ever and this newly reissued volume will prove invaluable to today's scholars of Lacanian thought.With contributions by Dylan Evans, Bruce Fink, Russell Grigg, Katrien Libbrecht, Dany Nobus, Luke Thurston, Paul Verhaeghe, and Slavoj iek.

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1. From Kantian Ethics to Mystical Experience: An Exploration of Jouissance

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Dylan Evans

I. Introduction

No survey of Lacanian terms would be complete without a discussion of jouissance.1 And yet, as more than one commentator has pointed out, jouissance is certainly among the most complex and ambiguous terms in the Lacanian oeuvre.2 The problem begins with translation. The closest literal translation is ‘enjoyment,’ both in the sense of deriving pleasure from something, and in the legal sense of exercising certain property rights. But while jouissance is often rendered simply ‘enjoyment’ in many English works on Lacan, this obscures the directly sexual connotations of the French term, which can also mean ‘orgasm.’3 In order to escape these difficulties of translation, most have opted simply to retain the French term, thus consolidating the tendency of many anglophone Lacanians to intersperse their discourse with the ocassional French word.4

The difficulties of finding an appropriate way of rendering the term in English are matched by the complexities of its conceptual references. During the course of Lacan's teaching, jouissance is used in a series of different contexts, in each of which it acquires a different nuance. The first step, then, in examining this term, must be to examine these different contexts in order to unravel these various nuances. Only then will it be possible to examine and assess the clinical and cultural applications of the term.

 

2. The Master Signifier and the Four Discourses

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Bruce Fink

I. Introduction

Lacanian psychoanalysis constitutes a very powerful theory and a socially significant practice. Yet it is not a Weltanschauung, a totalized or totalizing world view, though many would like to make it such.1 It is a discourse and, as such, has effects in the world. It is but one discourse among many, not the final, ultimate discourse.

The dominant discourse in the world today is no doubt the discourse of power: power as a means to achieve x, y, and z, but ultimately power for power’s sake. Lacanian psychoanalysis is not, in and of itself, a discourse of power. It deploys a certain kind of power in the analytic situation, a power that is unjustifiable according to many American schools of psychology wherein the ‘client’s’ autonomy (read: ego) is sacrosanct and must remain untrammeled and unchallenged. Psychoanalysis deploys the power of the cause of desire, in order to bring about a reconfiguration of the analysand’s desire. As such, analytic discourse is structured differently from the discourse of power. Lacan’s ‘four discourses’ (the master’s discourse, the university discourse, the hysteric’s discourse and the analyst’s discourse) seek to account for the structural differences among discourses, and I will turn to this accounting in a moment.

 

3. From the Mechanism of Psychosis to the Universal Condition of the Symptom: On Foreclosure

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Russell Grigg

I. Introduction

Lacan introduces the term ‘foreclosure’ to explain the massive and global differences between psychosis and neurosis; neurosis operates by way of repression, while psychosis operates by way of foreclosure. This distinction is complemented by a third category, though arguably less secure and more problematic than the first two, of disavowal, as a mechanism specific to perversion. These three terms which correspond respectively to Freud's Verdrängung, Verwerfung and Verleugnung, along with the three-part division of neurosis, psychosis and perversion, form the basis of what is effectively a differential diagnosis in Lacan's work, one that aspires to being truly psychoanalytic, deriving nothing from psychiatric categories. Thus, underlying the elaboration of the notion of foreclosure is a clear and sharp distinction between three separate subjective structures.

Two features of this psychoanalytic nosology worthy of note are firstly that it assumes a structural unity behind often quite different symptoms that are expressions of the one clinical type and secondly that there is no continuum between the various clinical types uncovered. A corollary is that in the case of psychosis this structure, a quite different structure from that of neurosis, is present even before the psychosis declares itself clinically.

 

4. The Original Sin of Psychoanalysis: On the Desire of the Analyst

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Katrien Libbrecht

I. Introduction

Lacan's concept of the desire of the analyst is both very specific and highly hybrid. On the one hand, it refers to the function of the desire of the analyst as an enigma, x, which is considered to be the driving force of the analytic treatment for the analyst. As a function, this desire of the analyst is explicitly related to the outcome of his or her training analysis. Since this concept does not stem from Lacan's ‘return to Freud,’ it substantiates the specificity of Lacan's position regarding psychoanalytic praxis. However, on the other hand, the desire of the analyst only derives its meaning from a series of other concepts in Lacan's theory. It touches for instance on the conception and handling of transference, on the direction of the treatment, on the position and the act of the analyst, and on the ethics of psychoanalysis. Since it refers to the training of the analyst, it also relates to the definition of the conclusion of the treatment and to the procedure of the pass from analysand to analyst, which Lacan formalised in his Proposition of 9 October 1967 on the Psychoanalyst of the School.1

 

5. Life and Death in the Glass: A New Look at the Mirror Stage

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Dany Nobus

I. Historical Context

Thus it appeared, I say, but was not. It was my antagonist—it was Wilson, who then stood before me in the agonies of his dissolution. His mask and cloak lay, where he had thrown them, upon the floor.1

‘The discourse one shall find here deserves to be introduced by its circumstances. For it bears their marks.’2 With these opening sentences of The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis, the written amplification of a keynote address held at a conference in Rome on 26 September 1953, Jacques Lacan drew his readership's attention to a singular tug-of-war within the French psychoanalytic milieu, showing how his sneering Rome discourse had been prompted by specific historical events.3 Yet, at the same time he unwittingly set an example for all scholars attempting to probe into the fabric of his own, exceedingly abstract theoretical formulations.

Indeed, no matter how much Lacan's Rome discourse may have been sparked off by conflicting personal interests and irreconcilable differences of opinion within the Société Psychanalytique de Paris (SPP), Lacan's seminars and writings have always kept track of the Zeitgeist. The spirit of the age is for instance clearly detectable in Seminar XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, which cannot be disjointed from Lacan's excommunication from the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA), but it is equally crucial for Seminar XVII, L'envers de la psychanalyse, in which Lacan replied to the Paris student revolts of May 1968, as well as for the majority of his other contributions.4 Furthermore, reconstructing and examining the historical context of Lacan's works is essential in order to understand some of the allusions they contain, and provides an excellent framework to grasp the meaning and the importance of his wording.5 Such a reading procedure also governed Lacan's own ‘return to Freud,’ inasmuch as he declared in Seminar III, The Psychoses, that ‘a text has to be brought to life by what follows and by what precedes.’6 Lacan refused to read Freud's texts as isolated statements, preferring to revive their original meaning by placing them into their appropriate historical and subjective contexts.7 In this way, it is possible to understand why Lacan at one point contended that the meaning of his ‘return to Freud’ was simply a return to the meaning of Freud—a meaning obfuscated by those who failed to see that Freud's works had been written against the backdrop of a particular social-scientific climate and also incorporate a singular subjective desire.8

 

6. Ineluctable Nodalities: On the Borromean Knot

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Ineluctable Nodalities: On the Borromean Knot

Luke Thurston

I. Introduction

The first step towards an understanding of the Borromean knot—the key figure in the topological elaborations which were the central preoccupation of the last ten years of Lacan's life—is to separate it from its legendary penumbra. A predominant image of the knot as the emblem of a terra incognita of dark, abstruse speculation, the incomprehensible grand finale of Lacanian theory, has led to two opposing forms of misunderstanding: on one side, a sort of transferential supposition of knowledge, elevating the knot to the status of a hieratic mystery, a master signifier available only to the initiated; on the other, the idea of the knot as an irrelevant scholastic whim, which has allowed hostile critics to dismiss any talk of psychoanalytic topology as mere étourderie (absent-mindedness), echoing the title of a famously difficult Lacanian text from 1973.1

If Lacan was himself at times during the 1970's complicit with a certain imaginary notion of the knot (he occasionally allowed his stylistic elegance to slip into self-dramatization, causing one of his followers to refer ironically to ‘the epic of the Borromean knot’), we should not allow its legendary aura to hinder our efforts to analyze its emergence and development in Lacan's thought, and to try to grasp some of the problems and questions it raises.2

 

7. Causation and Destitution of a Pre-ontological Non-entity: On the Lacanian Subject

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Causation and Destitution of a Pre-ontological Non-entity: On the Lacanian Subject

Paul Verhaeghe

‘[T]he subject is nothing but the impossibility of its own signifying representation.’

Slavoj Žižek1

I. Introduction

The concept of the ‘subject’ is without any doubt one of the most typical and most important Lacanian concepts, through which the entire evolution of Lacan's thought can be studied. Initially, Lacan wrote about the ‘I’ (je), but very soon this was changed into ‘subject’ (sujet),2 Both signifiers represent Lacan's attempt to distance himself from the post-Freudian interpretation of the ego and the accompanying conception of the treatment. This attempt resulted in the establishment of a theory of his own.

With the early Lacan, the subject has to be understood in its radical opposition to the ego. The ego belongs to the imaginary order, whilst the subject belongs to the symbolic. The subject is the subject of the unconscious, as described by Freud with his notion of das Es (the Id), whilst the ego is a mere concatenation of alienating identifications.3

 

8. The Seven Veils of Fantasy

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The Seven Veils of Fantasy

Slavoj Žižek

I. Introduction

The standard notion of the way fantasy works within ideology, is that of a fantasy-scenario which obfuscates the true horror of a situation. For example, instead of a full rendering of the antagonisms that traverse our society, we indulge in the notion of society as an organic Whole, kept together by forces of solidarity and cooperation.

However, it is much more productive to look for this notion of fantasy where one would not expect to find it, in marginal and apparently purely utilitarian situations, like the safety instructions prior to the take-off of an airplane. Aren't they sustained by a fantasmatic scenario of how a possible plane-crash will look? After a gentle landing on water (miraculously, it is always supposed to happen on water!), each of the passengers puts on the life-jacket and, as on a beach toboggan, slides into the water and takes a swim, like a nice collective lagoon holiday-experience under the guidance of an experienced swimming instructor. Is this ‘gentrification’ of a catastrophe (a nice soft landing, stewardesses in dance-like style graciously pointing with their hands towards the Exit-signs), not also ideology at its purest?

 

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