in post-structuralism and post modernism

by Madan Sarup



Marxist dialogue with psychoanalysis began in 1963.

Althusser published his famous article "Freud and Lacan"


But as a theory of the self, existentialism remained within Cartesianism.  Its psychology tended to portray the individual as rational.


For Lacan there is no separation between self and society.  Human beings become social with the appropriation of language; and its language that constitutes us as a subject.  Thus, we should not dichotomize the individual and society.  Society and habits each individual.


Lacan's associative style is intended to slope the reader down.  His text is not there to convince, but to do something to you.

I believe that Lacan's unique achievement was that he fused phenomenology and structuralism.

phenomenology stresses the free self (the subject); structuralism emphasizes language determinism.  Lacan uses structuralism but never rejects the subject.


Lacan also belongs, in part, to the hermeneutic tradition, which states that social phenomenon always have meaning and that the task of the social sciences is not to explain (as traditional psychiatry seeks to do) but to understand.


Lacan is work is anti-biological.  For him, madness is a discourse, an attempt at communication, that must be interpreted.  He emphasizes that the personality is not the mind but the whole being.  And we cannot separate a persons psychology from their history.


Lacan's view is that biology is always interpreted by the human subject, retracted through language; that there is no such thing as "the body" before language.


He also doesn't like in the psychologist who assert that "self improvement" is possible without calling society into question.


He is looking for objectivity, but not the objectivity of natural science.  He is very interested in mathematical logic and poetry.  Texts cannot have an unambiguous, pristine meaning.  In his view, analysts must relate directly with the unconscious in this means that they must be practitioners of the language of the unconscious.




Knowledge of the world, of others and of self is determined by language.  But language is also the vehicle of the social given, a culture, prohibitions and laws.


In the mothers absence 18 months old children throw things and played with things to make up for the mothers absence.

Self recognition and the mayor is affected between the ages of 6 and 18 months in three stages. At first the child confuses in their image in the mayor with their parents.  The second stage the father intervenes; he deprives the child out of the object of its desire the mother.  The third stage is the identification with the father.


This oedipal process liberates the subject by giving him, with his name, a place in the family constellation, an original signifier of self and subjectivity.  It promotes him in his realization of self through participation in the world of culture, language and civilization.


Lacan notes that, because of our metaphor ability, words convey multiple meanings.


Disassociating that even though with self, instead of "I think therefore I am" Lacan asserts "I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think."  Or, "I think where I cannot say that I am." 




Lacan will use that there could not be a human subject with out language but that the subject cannot be reduced to language.  But language has priority.  There is no subject independent of language.


Unlike Saussure, he does not think that there is one particular signifier to each particular signified.  Meeting only emerges through discourse, as a consequence of displacements along the signifying chain.


The signifier always signifies another signifier; no word is free from metaphor.  There is slippage along the signifying chain.

Each word is only definable in terms of other words.  And the word only makes sense when the sentence is finished.

In repression, one signifier pushes down another signifier to the unconscious.


Females can only see males as females do.  And so males to females.




The child in front of the mirror is only a metaphor. 

In German philosophy people ask: what is it to be conscious of oneself?  How do we recognize the self?  What is that "something" that reflects consciousness that on to itself?  Can I reflect on the subject and reflect on that reflection?


When we see ourselves we see only a look.  We do not get nearer to what we are.


Then there is the dialectic of recognition.  We get knowledge of what we are from Howell others respond to us.


Some say this first image comes from our mothers.  But Lacan says we never get a stable image.  We try to interpret our relation to others that there is always a gap of Mis recognition.  We can never be certain of the meaning of the others responds.  Thus our mirror image is distorted.


Reflection always turns the subject into an object.  As soon as we say, "oh I'm like so and so."  We have turned ourselves into an object.  We are never any one of our characteristics.  But there is no subject in representation.  And the consciousness cannot grasp itself without recognition by others.  We would like to turn others and to instruments (i.e. mirrors).


We can never know another because there is a golf between saying and meaning.  Subject and object are irreconcilably divided.


We have a need for wholeness but that is impossible.


            FREUD AND LACAN


Freud takes away the social dimensions.  He uses drives.  But for Lacan the subject to subject relation is there from the beginning.


Freud wants to integrate such drives into the ego.  Lacan says that's impossible.  You cannot get an object into the subject.


The dream is a text.  Each symbol in the dream has multiple meanings.


Freud studied cultures dominance over human nature.  Nature, for Lacan, is real but impossible to grasp in a. Pure State because we know it through language.


Freud's tragedy is the nature culture dichotomy.  For Lacan it is the perpetual lack of wholeness.


Lacan symbolizes Freud's penis in the Oedipal situation into a phallus.  The phallus represents union with the other or wholeness.  Desire is not sexual in his scheme, it stands for wholeness, for one thing to be.


For Lacan the subconscious is verbal.


Lack makes us aware of ourselves as means that need.  When we desire another's desire we become human.


            HEGEL AND LACAN

Hegel had a story about a master and a slave. 

People get absorbed and things and don't talk about themselves or he uses the word I.


For this word to appear something other than pure contemplation must be present.

That thing is, for Hegel, desire.  Desire makes a person disquieted and moves them to action.

Desire is only satisfied by transforming an object.  That's all action is negating.

You take something and put it into your reality.

Generally, the "I" of desire is an emptiness that receives a real positive content.


Desire is only human in one desires the desire of another.  To be recognized or valued in another.


            MASTER AND SLAVE

all of these desires seeking recognition must fight to the death.  One desire dies without being recognized by the master.  Subordinating desires is to negate or over, oneself.

The slave (or subordinated desire) then cultivates itself.

All history is nothing but the progressive negation of slavery by the slave.



human beings are truly free or release human only in and by effective negation of the given real.

And it is a synthesis of negation and identity.  He overcomes himself while preserving and sublimating himself.

Education is a long series of negation is affected by the child.



particularity refers to the individual agent.  People want to be unique and yet recognized by as many people as possible.  Universality refers to the social aspect of man's existence.

 Individuality is a synthesis of the particular and the universal, the universal being the negation or the antithesis of the particular.  Therefore the individual is a dialectic.



desire is what cannot be satisfied by demand.

Demand for things has overtones determined by the response to the demand.  Anorexics are given food, but want love.

We want the desired object to be given to us with love for our unique particularity.


the sense of loss

Lacan's story reads like the classic narrative. They are territorialization of the body; the mirror phase; access to language and then the oedipal complex.

Each stage is conceived in terms of some kind of self loss or lack.


Lacan things we are first androgynous.  He refers to Plato's symposium.  Aristophonese tells of how we were both and then divided.


The second loss is the pre oedipal territorialization of the subjects body.

Lacan believes that once the subject has entered the symbolic order (language) its organic needs passed through the "defiles" or narrow network of signification and are transformed into oh wait which makes them thereafter impossible to satisfy.


The word "phallas" is used by Lacan to refer to all of those values which are opposed to lack.

Lacan believes that the discourse within which the subject finds its identity is always the discource of the Other.


Lacan says the subject is entirely rational.  It is a set of relationships.  It is only activated by a signifying system which exists before the individual and determines their cultural identity.  This is the way the individual is created and the existing order sustained.