Foreclosure (also known as "foreclusion"; French: forclusion) is the English translation of a term that the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan introduced into psychoanalysis to represent a defence mechanism which he considered central to the development of psychosis.
The term was originally introduced into psychology 'in 1928, when Édouard Pichon published, in Pierre Janet's review, his famous article on "The Psychological Significance of Negation in French"'...[and] borrowed the legal term forclusif to indicate...facts that the speaker no longer sees as part of reality'. The publication took part against the background of the Twenties dispute between Freud and René Laforgue over scotomization. 'If I am not mistaken', Freud wrote in 1927, 'Laforgue would say in this case that the boy "scotomizes" his perception of the woman's lack of a penis. A new technical term is justified when it describes a new fact or emphasizes it. This is not the case here'. Freud went on to suggest that if one wanted to 'reserve the word "Verdrängung" ["repression"] for the affect, then the correct German word for the vicissitude of the idea would be "Verleugnung" ["disavowal"]'.
Lacan's introduction of foreclosure
It was however a third Freudian term, "Verwerfung", that came to the fore when Lacan took up the cudgels against Laforgue again three decades later, in his third seminar on the psychoses, and 'used the French word forclusion (fore-closure) to translate the German term Verwerfung, previously rendered in French as rejet (repudiation)'. When he first made public his use of the term (in 1959), he announced it very cautiously: 'Let us extract from several of Freud's texts a term that is sufficiently articulated in them to...designate in them a function of the unconscious that is distinct from the repressed. Let us take as demonstrated the essence of my seminar on the psychoses, namely, that this term refers to...psychosis: this term is Verwerfung (foreclosure)'.
Ignoring over Pichon's role in foreclosure's introduction, as part of his 'victory over Laforgue he attributed to Freud the discovery of a process (foreclosure) and the invention of a concept (Verwerfung) that Freud had not originated at all'; and he tied foreclosure firmly into 'our theory of the signifier' which he also attributed to Freud (though admitting at least that 'Freud says this all the more in that he does not know that he is saying it fifty years before the linguists'). Here as elsewhere, his critics would suggest, 'Lacan's argument is conducted on Freud's behalf and, at the same time, against him' — so that "foreclosure" in Lacan's sense is one of the 'many times...he used to attribute to Freud innovations that were really his own'.
Lacan's interpretations of psychosis
The problematic Lacan sought to address with the twin tools of foreclosure and the signifier was that of the difference between psychosis and neurosis, as manifested in and indicated by language usage. It was common analytic ground that 'when psychotics speak they always have some meanings that are too fixed, and some that are far too loose...they have a different relation to language, and a different way of speaking from neurotics'. Freud, following Bleuler and Jung had pointed to 'a number of changes in speech...in schizophrenics...words are subjected to the same process as that which makes the dream'. Lacan used foreclosure to explain why.
For Lacan, 'Foreclosure is a primordial defense because it does not act on a signifier that is already inscribed within the chain of signifiers, but rather, it rejects the inscription itself....This operation of repudiation especially affects highly meaningful signifiers such as the Name-of-the-Father, the guarantor of castration. Lacan viewed the foreclosure of this signifier as the characteristic mechanism of psychosis'.
Lacan considered the father to play a vital role in breaking the initial mother/child duality and introducing the child to the wider world of culture, language, institutions and social reality — the Symbolic world — the fatherer being 'the human being who stands for the law and order that the mother plants in the life of the child...widens the child's view of the world'. The result in normal development is 'proper separation from the motherer, as marked out by the Names-of-the-father' — by, one might say, the internalised father. Thus Lacan postulates the existence of a paternal function (the "Name of the Father" or "primordial signifier") which allows the realm of the Symbolic to be bound to the realms of the Imaginary and the Real. This function prevents the developing child from being engulfed by its mother and allows him/her to emerge as a separate entity in his/her own right. It is a symbol of parental authority (a general symbol that represents the power of father of the Oedipus complex) that brings the child into the realm of the Symbolic by forcing him/her to act and to verbalise as an adult. As a result, the three realms are integrated in a way that is conducive to the creation of meaning and successful communication by means of what Lacan calls a Borromean knot.
In some cases, the paternal function is foreclosed from the Symbolic order. When this happens, the realm of the Symbolic is insufficiently bound to the realm of the Imaginary and failures in meaning may occur (the Borromean knot becomes undone and the three realms completely disconnected), with 'a disorder caused at the most personal juncture between the subject and his sense of being alive'. Psychosis is experienced after some environmental trigger in the form of a signifier which the individual cannot assimilate means that 'the Name-of-the-Father, verworfen, foreclosed...[is] called into symbolic opposition to the subject'. The fabric of the individual's reality is ripped apart and no meaningful Symbolic sense can be made of experience. 'Absence of transcendence of the Oedipus places the subject under the regime of foreclosure or non-distinction between the symbolic and the real'; and psychotic delusions or hallucinations are the consequent result of the individual's striving to account for what he/she experiences.
It has been suggested that in his last decade there was 'a significant shift in Lacan's own writing from a description of psychosis as rooted in "foreclosure" of — refusal to acknowledge, let alone recognise as legitimate — the "Name-of-the-Father" to an account of a particular form of knotting together of the symbolic, imaginary, and real'.
'Many have asked whether psychoanalytic treatment can repair a foreclosure. Case histories do not provide any clear answers'.
Post Lacan: the continuing problematic
The question of the status of foreclosure continued to plague Lacan's successors in the decades after his death, as 'a mood of dissidence...[bore] witness to the transformation linked to the end of the Lacanian saga' and 'more than twenty associations emerged from the 1980 dissolution of the École Freudienne de Paris. With a general obligation to uphold both fidelity to Lacan, and Lacan's fidelity to Freud, they struggled with the fact that 'whatever the (considerable) value of "foreclosure" as clinical and epistomological concept...the term, before being a translation of Freud's German, was a borrowing from Pinchon's French'.
'At best the commentators perceive that foreclosure does not exist as a concept in Freud's work...sometimes they make no mention of the borrowing from Pinchon and...at worst, the commentators "hallucinate" the presence of a concept of foreclosure in Freud', driven by the need to preserve Lacan as Freud's true successor.
- Élisabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan (Cambridge 1997) p. 440
- Roudinesco, p. 282
- Sigmund Freud, "Fetishism", On Sexuality (PFL 7) p. 352
- Freud, "Fetishism", pp. 352–3
- Charles Melman, "Foreclosure"
- Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection (London 1997) p. 200
- Roudinesco, p. 283
- Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (London 1994) p. 46
- Malcolm Bowie, Lacan (London 1991) pp. 6–7
- Roudinesco, p. 440
- Philip Hill, Lacan for Beginners (London 1997) pp. 113 and 122
- Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology (PFL 11) pp. 202–4
- Charles Melman, "Foreclosure"
- D. W. Winnicott, The Child, the Family, and the Outside World (Penguin 1973) pp. 115–6
- Hill, p. 122
- Lacan, Écrits p. 201
- Lacan, Écrits p. 217
- Anika Lemaire, Jacques Lacan (1979) p. 246
- Ian Parker, Lacanian Psychoanalysis (2010) p. 44
- Charles Melman, "Foreclosure"
- Élisabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan & Co (1990) p. 699
- Jacques Sedat, "French Lacanian Movement"
- Jeffrey Mehlman, "Translator's Foreword" in Roudinesco, & Co p. xiii
- Roudinesco (1997) p. 440
- Fink, Bruce (1997). A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis, Theory and Technique. HUP. London
- Sanchez, Beatriz (2004). "Understanding the Psychotic Mental Structure from a Lacanian Point of View and Dialogical Treatment in a Therapeutic Community." Therapeutic Communities 25.4: 253-260.