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Lacanianism is the study of, and development of, the ideas and theories of the dissident French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Beginning as a commentary on the writings of Freud, Lacanianism developed into a new psychoanalytic theory of humankind, and spawned a world-wide movement of its own.
Development of Lacan's thought
Lacan considered the human psyche to be framed within the three orders of The Imaginary, The Symbolic and The Real (RSI). The three divisions in their varying emphases also correspond roughly to the development of Lacan's thought. As he himself put it in Seminar XXII, "I began with the Imaginary, I then had to chew on the story of the Symbolic...and I finished by putting out for you this famous Real".
Lacan's early psychoanalytic contributions centred around the questions of image, identification and unconscious phantasy. Developing Henri Wallon's concept of infant mirroring, he used the idea of the mirror stage to demonstrate the imaginary nature of the ego, in opposition to the views of ego psychology.
In the fifties, the focus of Lacan's interest shifted to the symbolic order of kinship, culture, social structure and roles — all mediated by the acquisition of language — into which each one of us is born and with which we all have to come to terms.
The focus of therapy became that of dealing with disruptions on the part of the Imaginary of the structuring role played by the signifier/Other/Symbolic Order.
The Real: Poststructuralism
The sixties saw Lacan's attention increasingly focused on the what he termed the Real — not external consensual reality, but rather that unconscious element in the personality, linked to trauma, dream and the drive, which resists signification.
The real was what was lacking or absent from every totalising structural theory; and in the form of jouissance, and the persistence of the symptom or synthome, marked Lacan's shifting of psychoanalysis from modernity to postmodernity.
Lacan's thinking was intimately geared not only to the work of Freud but to that of the most prominent of his psychoanalytic successors — Heinz Hartmann, Melanie Klein, Michael Balint, D. W. Winnicott and more. With Lacan's break with official psychoanalysis in 1963-4, however, a tendency developed to look for a pure, self-containd Lacanianism, without psychoanalytic trappings. Jacques-Alain Miller's index to Ecrits had already written of "the Lacanian epistemology...the analytic experience (in its Lacanian definition...)"; and where the old guard of first-generation discoples like Serge Leclaire continued to stress the importance of the re-reading of Freud, the new recruits of the sixties and seventies favoured instead an ahistorical Lacan, systematised after the event into a rigorous if over-simplified theoretical whole.
As a body of thought, Lacanianism began to make its way into the English-speaking world from the sixties onwards, influencing film theory, feminist thought, and psychoanalytic criticism, as well as politics and social sciences, primarily through the concepts of the Imaginary and the Symbolic. As the role of the real and of jouissance in opposing structure became more widely recognised, however, so too Lacanianism developed as a tool for the exploration of the divided subject of postmodernity.
Since Lacan's death, however, much of the public attention focused on his work began to decline. Lacan had always been criticised for an obscurantist writing style; and many of his disciples simply replicated the mystificatory elements in his work (in a sort of transferential identification) without his freshness. Combined with their often bitter sectarian squabbling, the result was to alienate much of the following Lacanianism had enjoyed before.
Where interest in Lacanianism did revive in the 21stC, it was in large part the work of figures like Zizek who have been able to use Lacan's thought for their own intellectual ends, without the sometimes stifling orthodoxy of many of the formal Lacanian traditions. The continued influence of Lacanianism is thus paradoxically strongest in those who seem to have embraced Malcolm Bowie's recommendation: "learn to unlearn the Lacanian idiom in the way Lacan unlearns the Freudian idiom".
- Malcolm Bowie, Lacan (1991) p. 111
- M. Hardt/K. Weeks, The Jameson Reader (2000) p. 96
- R. Appignanesi/C. Garratt, Postmodernism for Beginners (1995) p. 89
- Quoted in J. M. Mellard, Beyond Lacan (2006) p. 49
- Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (1995) p. xx-xxii and p. 279
- R. Appignanesi/C. Garratt, Postmodernism for Beginners (1995) p. 92-3
- Bruce Fink, The Lacanian Subject (1997) p. 87
- Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (1994) p. 280
- Y. Stavrakakis, The Lacanian Left (2007)
- Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection (1997) p. 334-7
- Élisabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan (1999) p. 334
- Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection (1997) p. 326-7
- Élisabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan (1999) p. 305-6 and p. 334
- J. Childers/G. Hentzi, The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism (1996) p. 270 and p. 246-8
- Y. Stravrakakis, The Lacanian Left (2007) p. 20
- Anthony Elliott, Social Theory Since Freud (2013) p. 3-7
- R. Minsky, Psychoanalysis and Gender (1996) p. 175
- Y. Stravrakakis, Lacan and the Political (1999) p. 5-6
- S. Zizek ed., Jacques Lacan (2003) p. 5
- Y. Stravrakakis, The Lacanian Left (2007) p. 148
- Quoted in Adam Phillips, On Flirtation (1994) p. 162
- Élisabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan & Co: A History of Psychoanalysis in France (1990)
- Jean-Michel Rabate, Jacques Lacan: Psychoanalysis and the Subject of Literature (2001)