Commentaries

On Lacanian Psychoanalysis, Language, and Popular Posts

In, A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud famously pointed out three humilities in human history:

1) Earth is not at the center of the universe (Nicolaus Copernicus).
2) Humans are nothing special but animals amongst nature (Charles Darwin).
3) Humans are not the masters of their own mind (Sigmund Freud and other psychoanalysts).

This post consists of further elaborations on some of my past writings that talks about Lacanian psychoanalysis (I will get to a little bit of deconstruction and Jordan Peterson at the very end). It will not be very well structured because I wrote it over night (I was bored). I do not consider myself to be well-read on Lacan, but I think I am competent enough to talk about his ideas. In my opinion, Lacan, along with Melanie Klein, are the most important post-Freudians in psychoanalytic theory, and clinical psychoanalysis. What you will learn is not only how crazy Lacanian psychoanalysis is, but how our everyday spoken / written language is actually full of holes and gaps ready to be psychoanalyzed. It is important that you understand the basic concepts which I have introduced from my previous posts before you read this one (hyperlinked in the large subtitles below)—though you can probably get by without reading them. This post is also very long (around 5000 words), and relatively dense.

On Love: Philosophy in Lacanian Psychoanalysis

At first, I contemplated on whether I should publish the post because love is the most cliche topic in history. But it turned out that many people liked it. This is probably because I had to water down a lot of psychoanalytical ideas in order to reach a larger audience. As such, my writing would be a disappointment for those who wish to understand psychoanalysis at a deeper level. The majority of this post will satisfy you with some complex psychoanalytical concepts that I intentionally skipped (though I won’t cover every single concept entirely). Before I begin, there are three basic ideas that we should understand from the original post:

1) I showed that in Lacanian psychoanalysis, “objectification” is inevitable. Objet a (object cause of desire) takes position as the object in-itself where our relationship with the other is actually missing. Love is what fills in this non-existent relationship which allows us to accept the object for itself.

2) Lacanian psychoanalysis and science has a complicated relationship. Lacan sometimes refers to psychoanalysis as scientific, and other times not. Certainly, the scientific folks will say that psychoanalysis has not past the rigor of the scientific method and therefore it is a pseudoscience (that is, if Lacan claims it to be a science). But at the same time, scientists are also the ones who did not consider what allows their “scientific method” and “knowledge” to surface into their conscious mind. Psychoanalysis attempts to articulate how we experience the fabric of reality through subjectivity. In Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan briefly talks about a man who frequents the coast. One day he “discovers” that the tides of the ocean are influenced by the moon, even when his unconscious mind had already discovered this phenomenon long before the thought had surfaced into his consciousness.

3) Psychoanalysis is unlike modern psychology which focuses heavily on scientific inquiries in the brain, hormones, body, behaviors, cognition, etc. A psychoanalyst also does not prescribe medicine so you can conceal the symptoms of your neurosis or psychosis. A psychoanalyst reveals and makes you confront your symptoms by looking for the origins of your neurosis or psychosis from your childhood experience (in psychoanalysis, a lot of adult psychological disorders originates from childhood). Another words, psychoanalysis tries to tell you the truth about your personal problems. One can already see that psychoanalysis is not for everyone. Not only does it take a long time to see results, it is also significantly more expensive than medication. The patient must be ready to learn about themselves, connect the missing dots in their lives, and confront all of their unwanted repressed thoughts and feelings.

The Symbolic and the Split Subject 

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The main problem of my original post is that I focus mostly between Imaginary and Real, with little emphasis on the Symbolic order which represents language, law, the big Other, and the unconscious mind. Lacanian psychoanalysis is largely about the Symbolic order because “the unconscious is structured like a language”. It is therefore, impossible to talk about Lacan without addressing language. The challenge is that, the moment I incorporate important ideas from the Symbolic, my writing will no longer be as beginner friendly. This is because, (1) the Symbolic order involves the “the subject of the unconscious”. (2) The word “subject” consists of several connotations in relationship to philosophy, legal law, and Freud. (3) Every Symbolic word I speak is always already influenced by the unconscious subject. Every signifying word from the spoken / written subject reveals to a psychoanalyst a series of symptoms of the person, including this text. The relationship between the subject of the unconscious and the Symbolic is the heart of Lacanian psychoanalysis.

Let us begin by understanding the difference between subject and ego, which is the most important distinction that we must be able to tell apart. Lacan was against Anglo-American ego-psychology where these psychologists places the ego (“I”) as the subject—that it is our egos which gives us an agency to choose. For Lacan, the ego is actually an object, and not a subject. The ego is an Imaginary entity without any agency. Basically, the ego is our Imaginary and progressive construction of our identity through Lacan’s three orders (Real, Imaginary and Symbolic). The ego is a richly made up narrative about ourselves which includes our mannerisms, behaviors, how we will act in certain situations, and who we are and the roles we play. Whereas the subject is the subject of the unconscious. Unlike the ego that makes up all these Imaginary things about itself, the subject “avoids” the ego from fully capturing its identity (as the ego develops). There are things we can find out about the unconscious subject through the language of the ego (i.e. this text), but what we can know about the subject is never complete. This incompleteness is also caused by, as we will later see, the infamous castration complex and other concepts such as “the big Other”. Hence why Lacan reveals that every subject is essentially split or “barred”, since the subject is incomplete through the ego (split subject is represented with an “S” with a strike through it). Any sense of wholeness of this split subject is just a projection from our Imaginary ego. Ultimately, the ego alienates the unconscious subject by splitting it. As such, the ego is the symptom of neurosis and psychosis that needs to be analyzed. The stronger this ego gets, the more it alienates and represses the subject. This is why Lacan was radically against ego-psychology because making the ego stronger will alienate the unconscious subject even more.

To put it in another way, the unconscious subject speaks through the ego without revealing itself. The subject is a negative entity that remains in the unconscious where we can only see “half” of it through the ego when it speaks—hence the “split subject”. What the ego says about itself, its behaviors, etc. reveals about the unconscious subject. For example, if someone wonders why they always forget their car keys, but no matter how hard they try not to forget them, they always leave it behind at work, etc. All of this reveals something about the unconscious subject of this person, but never completely. At this point, the psychoanalyst might think, there is something about these behaviors that satisfies (pleasure wise; will get to this) their unconscious mind (split subject) which is causing them to consistently do this over and over again. To be sure, one can never figure out what the unconscious subject is thinking, hence this subject will always be split and incomplete—this wound cannot be healed.

The split subject is unconscious where we can only see parts of it through the ego. But also, the split subject is the effects of language, and we will gradually learn a little more about this as we move along. Let us quickly piece together Lacan’s words, the subject is “the subject of the unconscious”, “the unconscious is structured like a language”, and finally, “the unconscious is the discourse of the Other”. In short, the split subject belongs to the Symbolic order which is constantly influenced by, of what we will soon see, the almighty and tyrannical, “big Other”.

Simply put, the conscious words that we speak and write everyday represents what our unconscious mind is thinking, where we, as conscious speaking (split) subjects are not completely aware of. Every word (signifier) we articulate marks the “split” of the unconscious subject where parts of it reveals itself through language. Most of us tend to think that the language we articulate is complete, even when it is full of gaps and holes that we substitute with signifiers (i.e. the Freudian slip). This is why Lacan likes to play with the phrase, “the subject that which is represented by a signifier for another signifier”. Ultimately, this split subject is complicated by a bunch of other psychoanalytic concepts such as jouissance (“pleasure”; this French term is intentionally left untranslated), the big Other, mirror stage, the-Name-of-the-Father, and the castration complex—these are ideas that I will get to.

The big Other

This leads to the problem on how vague I was in regards to psychoanalytic therapy where I pointed out, “the analyst’s job is to reveal what the patient has repressed in their Symbolic order via free association”. The Symbolic order is closely associated with the “big Other”, which is where the unconscious subject resides (one can even say that the Symbolic is the big Other). The primary goal of psychoanalytical therapy is to find out what the big Other wants (desires) when the split subject speaks through the ego. The big Other that is represented with a capital “A”, is loosely translated to what Freud calls, the superego. For Freud, the superego was developed from the creation of rules by the “Primal Father” in a tribe, which is derivative to the laws and social orders of civilization. The big Other is a radical alterity that mediates with the split subject and the ego; who basically forces you to ask how society and other people would judge you by what you are doing with your life. The big Other is a tyrannical subject (almost “God like”) that imposes the Symbolic law upon the ego and the split subject which keeps you in line with society. As such, the big Other will significantly influence how the ego is progressively formed through the Imaginary, which begins with the mirror stage in childhood until death.

To be sure, the Lacanian big Other is different to the little other who is distinguished with a lower-case “o”. Similar to object a, the little other is represented with a lower-case “a“. The little other is often seen as the “other person” even when this other “Real” person is just a mirror of our Imaginary alter-ego (i.e. when we empathize for others, this little other is doing work). Whereas, the big Other interferes with this little Imaginary other and the split subject through the Symbolic order. The big Other is the law which remains unconscious to the split subject through the discourse of Symbolic language. Essentially, Lacan thinks language comes from the big Other / unconscious mind. And what is spoken / written always obscurely shrouds the big Other as a radical alterity. This is another reason why the subject is always “split” as they articulate words, since they do not know what the big Other is thinking. The big Other is what mediates and shapes the split subject and the ego because it is the true mastermind of humans.

Since language is always influenced by the unconscious mind, Lacan will use algebra and other mathematical symbols known as “mathemes” to represent psychoanalytical concepts (for example, this is the graph of desire, and here is the graph on sexual difference, you won’t be able to understand them unless you read his seminars). Following closely to the philosophers Alexandre Koyre and Gaston Bachelard, Lacan thinks that by using mathematical formulas, he can transmit his knowledge on psychoanalysis to others. Furthermore, it is also why Lacan is so hard to read because the language that is articulated by the speaker (and interpreted by the reader), is always influenced by the unconscious. Hence, Lacan tries to counter-act this problem by presenting his work in strange ways.

The Mirror Stage, Castration, and the Oedipus Complex

The first figure who takes position as the big Other—the Real Other—is the mother who represents authority (the law) for a child to care for him/her. Thus, the big Other is always a woman. We can say that the first question the child asks is “What does the (m)Other want?” (by “want”, I mean, “desire”). The newborn child attempts to figure out the mother’s gestures who is either too loving or too withdrawn. The child becomes anxious for this Real Other because he/she cannot figure out what the mother wants. It is not until the child begins the mirror stage where they realize that the mother lacks a signifier and confronts the Oedipus Complex, which is closely related to castration. Here, Lacan is cautious to not fall into the traditional “every family has a mother and father” and that “they are of different biological sexes” trap. For Lacan, the maternal and paternal figures, like sexual difference, are positions that the parents take. As we will soon see, the castration complex will not interfere with this idea since castration is the Symbolic lack of the Imaginary phallus—not the lack of a Real penis (organ).

One of the most important contribution Lacan made in psychoanalysis is the famous concept known as “the mirror stage”. This is the stage when the child first recognizes themselves in the mirror—that the person he/she sees in the mirror is “I”, the Imaginary ego. The mirror stage marks the beginnings on the developments of the Imaginary (Ego; and Fantasy) and Symbolic order (split subject; language; law). To be sure, the mirror stage isn’t just a “stage”, but something that continues into adulthood.

When the child goes into the mirror stage and develops their Imaginary and Symbolic order (i.e. they begin to learn language and who “they are” as the ego, etc.), the child begins the castration complex and discovers how this Real Other which embodies the mother, is actually lacking a Symbolic signifier (there are three types of lacks: privation, frustration and castration; I am going to jump to castration). This is an idea that originates from Freud where the child discovers how their mother does not have a penis. Lacan takes Freud’s idea further by saying that, what lacks is not the Real penis (organ) in the (m)Other, but the Symbolic lack of the Imaginary phallus (the phallus is represented as ф).

Thus, the mother qua Real Other, is always Symbolically lacking the Imaginary phallic signifier. The child learns how their mother, who embodies the big Other, does not have any phallic signifier assigned to her. The mother (woman) is she who lacks a Symbolic language. This is why, the way we articulate Symbolic language through signifiers is always missing the signifier of the big Other since it always “slips away” the moment one tries to anchor / stabilize it. Nothing in Symbolic language can represent the Other (who is always a woman), because the only signifier (language) that exists is the phallus. As such, Lacan crosses out the big Other and refer to it as the “barred Other” (A) because she cannot be represented in language. This lack which is synonymous to castration, is what causes desire to arise.

The-Name-of-the-Father

From this moment, the famous Lacanian “Name-of-the-Father” comes into play as the “paternal metaphor” which replaces the lack of signifier from the maternal mother. The Real father appears and establishes the Symbolic phallus that was lacking within the Imagination of the child (there is a difference between Symbolic father, Imaginary father, and Real father, which I won’t talk about). Recall in my original post, that the moment we try to identify the Real through the Symbolic statement such as “red wine is made of grape juice”, the statement slips into the Imaginary of the “Real” which is not the actual Real in-itself, i.e. I am Imagining red wine is made of grape juice, which is not the Real irreducible red wine before my eyes. Here, something similar happens, where the Symbolic Name-of-the-Father substitutes for the Real (m)Other; where in a Freudian sense, the Symbolic-Imaginary phallus of the “Real” takes the place of the Real penis (as a “surplus”)—even when it is still fundamentally missing. This is why the castration complex is never complete in anyone, which marks the basic foundation for neurosis. Hence, we are all neurotics who tries to protect ourselves from castration.

On another note, the-Name-of-the-Father is an idea that originates from Freud, which was infamously known as the “Oedipus Complex” . Freud thinks every man represses the idea that they want to kill their father and have sex with their mother (though Lacan is not as extreme as Freud). The Lacanian Father, is equivalent to the Freudian Oedipus complex who says “no” to the taboo of incest—kind of like how incest is a crime in our society. The Father, who represents the Symbolic law (the phallic signifier; where its derivative develops into the laws of civilization, and what one might call “patriarchy”), is the substitution of the missing signifier / lack that the child desires from the (m)Other. As a result, our desire for the mother is repressed in our childhood and is replaced by the law (phallic signifier) of the Father. The-Name-of-the-Father is important because it is the right of passage for the child to enter the structure of society and its laws—along with every structure such as the socio-linguistic aspects of language. This is where the big Other begins to organize around and takes position as society, law, and language.

By articulating language, we are also articulating the lack (big Other) that is inherent within it. This is why Slavoj Zizek uses this to talk about money (See. Incontinence of the Void). The more money (signifiers) we accumulate, the more we paradoxically feel the lack and the more we desire for it (or as Arthur Schopenhauer said, money is like sea water, the more we drink it, the thirstier we get). In a Lacanian sense, the more signifiers that cannot be substituted or “anchored” with the phallus, the more feminine the writing—as we will see with James Joyce later on.

Ultimately, what we express through language represents the castration complex of substituting signs for the lack of the Other. Once again, this is why language is actually full of holes and gaps. It is also another reason why the subject is always split. Without this Symbolic law of the Father—this phallic signifier, which anchors and stabilizes the illusion of meaning, there would not be any meaning. This “anchoring” is famously known as “le point de capiton”, which is often left untranslatedNevertheless, this is why all Symbolic language is phallic, even when at a fundamental level, signification arises from the missing signifier of the mother. Thus, the active paradox of language is that: the phallic signifier of language also consists of the (m)Other. This mother (woman) qua Other is without Symbolic language, yet she is the origin of the Symbolic language—a language that is inherently (non)phallic.

Finally, we must understand that, for Lacan, both the boy and girl goes through the same Oedipus procedure but in the opposite timeline. For the boy, the-Name-of-the-Father is the exit of the Oedipus complex (who never really exits castration) where he separates from the mother when he recognizes that it is the father who is the Symbolic law (phallus). Where as for the girl, the-Name-of-the-Father marks the entering of the Oedipus Complex where she recognizes how the mother lacks the phallic signifier and begins to turn towards the father. The girl has to take position as the boy since there are no signification that belongs to the mother. Another words, the girl must speak and signify phallic language to substitute the lack in the (m)Other. It is only later where she develops feminine sexuality, which for Lacan, is closely related to “hysteria” and infinite jouissance (I will dab on infinite jouissance later on, but I won’t be talking too much about feminine sexuality because this post is already really long; See. Seminar XX).

The Pleasure Principle and Jouissance

Let us move on to address the sexual experience. While it seems like two people are having sex with each other, the only thing they experience are two things: (1) the Imagination of the other person which makes it appear like they are having sex, even when they are having sex with object a; (2) the only thing we experience during copulation is our own jouissance (pleasure) which takes us away from the other person—not closer. It is love that fills in the void of the other in a “sexual relationship”.

At last, we arrive at one of the most important concept of psychoanalysis—of what Freud famously calls the pleasure principle. Lacan calls it jouissance for reasons which I will try to explain later. For Freud, humans live according to the pleasure principle which is carried out by the unconscious mind. That is to say, the unconscious mind has the tendency to achieve and satisfy the pleasure principle. Hence for Freud, one turns towards the subject’s dreams since he saw how dreams seeks to satisfy our desires in strange latent ways. The trick is that, to experience pleasure does not always mean copulation. Freud saw how our sex drive becomes sublimated in civilization due to the effects of the superego (the law / big Other that prohibits us from doing this or that, such as incest, etc.). The most common form of pleasure that humanity attempts to achieve is happiness. An easy way is to think of the sex drive as a river. If a wall (the Symbolic law; the big Other) blocks off the flow of the river (sex drive), the water will flow elsewhere around the wall (or accumulate behind the wall in which case enhances neurosis and psychosis). This change in flow is called sublimation where we redirect the energy of our sex drive into other things such as, for Lacan, the articulation of language and signifiers (which is always missing the pleasure of the big Other due to castration), and for Freud, other daily activities such as work, hobbies, music, art, etc. This is one of the reasons why, the more laws we impose on people, i.e. the more we reinforce the tyrannical big Other which shapes our ego, the crazier and violent people gets due to the alienation of the unconscious subject (i.e. political correctness). Furthermore, our civilization today is largely based on achieving infinite jouissance as an end-in-itself and there are too many examples to count. This idea is famously known as Freud’s “libidinal economy” (an economy based on our libido).

The most controversial part of the pleasure principle is when Freud discovers how it actually tries to exceed into its opposition (See. Beyond the Pleasure Principle). Another words, there consists of another drive of what Freud infamously calls, the death drive. To put it in a quasi-Freudian and Lacanian way, Freud saw how our unconscious mind / subject (influenced by the big Other) seeks for all sorts of pleasure—including things that causes us suffering and painNot only do we want to live a happy life for pleasure, we also have an instinct of wanting “to return to the inanimate” (for real, Freud is not saying you should kill yourself, so please don’t). This is where the concepts of Sadochism, Masochism, and Fetishism are introduced because we all share certain aspects of these concepts in one way or another. For example, the most common form of fetish is kissing. Nevertheless, Lacan’s jouissance is the combination of both sex and death drive. Jouissance is a type of pleasure so powerful that it exceeds itself. Lacan refers to it as “pleasure” and not “enjoyment” because enjoyment implies that pleasure has a limit. Whereas jouissance does not have limits because it will lead the subject towards self-destruction.

Now you see how all of these psychoanalytical concepts overlaps each other as we near the end of this post. What we begin to see is how, for Lacan, the articulation of language and signifiers are a form of jouissance that is related to all the other concepts I mentioned (the Oedipus and castration complex, etc.). Lacan famously calls this, lalangue, which is an amalgam of libido and signifier. Another words, writing this post gives me jouissance. Speaking and articulating language gives jouissance. Reading this post and not / half understanding it gives jouissance.

I think part of the reason why jouissance is left untranslated is to leave us with a sense of dissatisfaction on how the signifier is incomplete which brings us “frustration” and pleasure. Furthermore, this untranslated term “jouissance” also marks castration within the Symbolic signifiers of the split subject, due to the lack of the Other. The jouissance of the Other within the Symbolic is impossible to acquire and we have to give up this jouissance (here, we recognize how the saying, “we want what we can’t have” lives up to its words because we can never have it). This is where object fills in the missing jouissance of the Other / other.

On Jordan Peterson and Post-Struturalism

My writings on Jordan Peterson and Post-structuralism has been by far, the most frequently visited, re-blogged, and referred. In general, my position on Peterson’s views on post-structuralism remains the same—even if my views on Derrida has slightly changed. To be honest, I think Peterson’s arguments against Derrida are quite pathetic and hypocritical. In general, the only thing I agree with Peterson is how political correctness is a huge problem.

In the original post, I covered Lacan’s infamous idea on how “there is no such thing as woman”, where feminine sexuality can only be recognized through the stuffing of the signifier, such as James Joyce’s Ulysses. If you recall on how the big Other, who is a woman that lacks a signifier, you will see why I said there are no language which can represent “woman’s language” due to the castration complex. But above all else, the paradoxical reason why Joyce’s Ulysses represents a woman’s writing is the result of infinitive signifiers where meaning constantly “slips away”. There appears to be a lack of (phallic) signified meaning when the reader tries to anchor the meanings (allusions) of the novel. On one hand, what allows signifiers to stabilize is the Symbolic law, the-Name-of-the-Father, who with a phallus, fixes signifiers in place to produce an illusion of meaning. On the other hand, because the text is bloated with signifiers, the anchoring of meaning becomes impossible. The phallus becomes impossible because it cannot anchor any illusions for a fixed meaning. Thus, the text presents itself as a “woman’s writing” where signifiers continues to slide to infinity and cannot be pinned down. This infinite movement of the signifier is also the infinite aspect of woman jouissance.

The recognition on the lack of a signifier is where feminine sexuality arises which is contrasted by masculine sexuality through fixed meaning. This is why feminist Helene Cixious wrote the way she did in her famous work: The Laugh of Medusa. When Derrida speaks of the term “phallogocentrism”, where the phal = phallus, as in the Symbolic, and not “penis” (as in the Real organ), we are dealing with a Bobby interpreted, quasi-Derridean criticism on psychoanalysis where people privilege and choose the position of masculine language, over the feminine “stuffed signifiers” of language (remember that sexuality, like the maternal / paternal figure, are merely positions that one takes).

Finally, I also mentioned that Derrida is a critic of psychoanalysis which is true. To be honest, I never read the Derridean book I cited, called Resistances of Psychoanalysis. Though if I were to take a wild guess, Derrida will probably talk about the problem on interpretation of the signifier in psychoanalysis and maybe the problem of the word “drive” translated from “trieb”. Derrida practices a specific type of phenomenology that is neither Husserlian or Heideggarian. One should not confuse phenomenology with psychoanalysis because they are polar opposites. In fact, Husserlian phenomenology challenges a lot of the assumptions made in psychology in general, particularly regarding the use of logic (See. psychologism). If you hate psychoanalysis but are still interested in French philosophy, a good anti-psychoanalytical text is Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia who focuses on the “micro-politics” of desire. This was the book that Lacan banned from his psychoanalytic institution. I have read a chunk of the book and it is pretty weird—almost as weird as me.

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