Lacan and Levi-Strauss or The Return to Freud (1951-1957)

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Lacan and Levi-Strauss are often mentioned together in reviews of French structuralist thought, but what really links their distinct projects? In this important study, Markos Zafiropoulos shows how Lacan's famous 'return to Freud' was only made possible through Lacan's reading of Levi-Strauss. Via a careful and illuminating comparison of the work of the psychoanalyst and that of the anthropologist, Zafiropoulos shows how Lacan's theories of the symbolic function, of the power of language, of the role of the father and even of the unconscious itself owe a major debt to Levi-Strauss.Lacan and Levi-Strauss is much more than an academic study of the relations between these two thinkers: it is also a superb introduction to the work of Lacan, setting out with detail and lucidity the major concepts of his work in the 1950s.

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CHAPTER ONE: The transcendence of the imaginary by the symbolic or the mirror stage and the symbolic function

ePub

The transcendence of the imaginary
by the symbolic or the mirror stage
and the symbolic function

As we shall see later, we can agree with Lacan that his return to Freud was publicly inaugurated by his Presentation on Transference, which was given at the congress of Romance-speaking psychoanalysts in 1951, while he was still a member of the SPP and the IPA. This presentation is the first of the readings that Lacan will give of Freud’s case histories between 1951 and 1957. Here he examines the case of Dora, the young Viennese woman of 18, who was divided between her perception of herself—which was on the male side—and her place as a woman, which she owed to the automatism of the symbolic function that determined the group to which she belonged.

In discussing this case, Lacan immediately stresses the episte-mological axis that orients his return to Freud. He does so in order to account for the way in which the subject is divided between the imaginary register, which founds her first identifications—those of the mirror stage—and the symbolic. In the latter register, Lacan locates the Oedipus complex and, more generally, the symbolic function, which he borrows from French anthropology and which includes this complex. This epistemological axis, imaginary- symbolic, is to a large extent co-extensive with the one that had oriented his research during his Durkheimian period, when he raised the father to the level of a familial operator, one who was able to extract the child from the imaginary capture; through his intervention, the child ceases to be grasped by the maternal imago (the weaning complex) and then by the brother (the intrusion complex).

 

CHAPTER TWO: The subject receives from the Other his own message in an inverted form: An investigation

ePub

The subject receives from the
Other his own message in an
inverted form: An investigation

Several months before inaugurating his seminar at Sainte-Anne, Lacan writes in the Rome Report:

The form in which language expresses itself in and of itself defines subjectivity. Language says: “You will go here, and when you see this, you will turn off there.” In other words, it refers to discourse about the other [discours de l’autre]. It is enveloped as such in the highest function of speech, inasmuch as speech commits its author by investing its addressee with a new reality, as for example, when a subject seals his fate as a married man by saying “You are my wife.”

Indeed, this is the essential form from which all human speech derives more than the form at which it arrives.

Hence the paradox that one of my most acute auditors believed to be an objection to my position when I first began to make my views known on analysis as dialectic; he formulated it as follows: “Human language would then constitute a kind of communication in which the sender receives his own message back from the receiver in inverted form.” I could but adopt this objector’s formulation, recognizing in it the stamp of my own thinking (Écrits, p. 247).

 

CHAPTER THREE: The name of the father, psychosis and phobia

ePub

The name of the father, psychosis
and phobia

We have seen the importance of the symbolic function, which Lacan borrowed from French anthropology and which enabled him to articulate his definition of subjectivity in Book I of the seminar and in the constellation of texts surrounding it. I have also analysed the importance of Lacan’s formula—”the subject receives his message from the other in an inverted form”—which was coined by Lévi-Strauss. In particular, I have shown how Lacan’s research up to his L schema can—mutatis mutandis—be read as a form of theoretical “bricolage” in which this formula serves to punctuate the mirror stage. Without reading the seminars line by line, I shall now show how Lacan’s connection with Lévi-Strauss will continue to mark his research profoundly between 1953 and 1957; we shall follow the itinerary that leads him to analyse first the psychoses and then phobia: two clinical continents whose maps are redrawn by means of a structural analysis. One of their central operators is precisely the notion of the Name-of-the-Father, to which we must return.

 

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