Lacan, Jacques-Marieémile (1901-1981)

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French psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Jacques-Marie Émile Lacan was born in Paris on April 12, 1901, and died on September 9, 1981, in the suburb of Neuilly.

He was born the eldest child of a bourgeois Catholic family of wealthy vinegar merchants from Orléans. Three other children followed: a boy who died young; Madeleine, born in 1903; and Marc, born in 1907, who would later become a Benedictine monk at Hautecombe. Lacan was close to his brother, both emotionally and intellectually, and owed his theological knowledge at least in part to him. Lacan completed his secondary studies at a well-regarded Catholic school, Stanislas College, where he was taught philosophy by Jean Baruzi, a specialist in Leibniz and the history of religion, especially St. John of the Cross.

At the beginning of the 1920s, Lacan began his medical studies while also frequenting the literary centers of the avant-garde. Along with his friends Henri Ey and Pierre Mâle, he specialized in psychiatry and interned at Sainte-Anne Hospital under Henri Clude; Gaëtan Georges de Clérambault, his "only teacher in psychiatry" (Lacan, 1966, p. 65); and Georges Heuyer. He also served a stint at the Burghölzli Clinic from August to September 1929. In 1932, he defended his thesis, On Paranoid Psychosis in its Relation to Personality. The centerpiece of the thesis was the case of Aimée (whose name, he would later learn, was Marguerite Anzieu), a criminal psychotic whom he observed at Sainte-Anne. When it was published, the thesis caused a bit of a sensation and was praised by René Crevel and Salvador Dalí. In December 1933, Lacan published his article, "Motives of Paranoiac Crime," in the journal Minotaure. The article was about the Papin sisters, whose crimes were then in the news and of great interest to the surrealists.

He entered analysis with Rudolph Loewenstein, probably in 1933 after completing his thesis. In 1934, he married Marie-Louise Blondin, the sister of his friend from medical school, Sylvain Blondin. The couple had three children, Caroline, Thibaut, and Sibylle. In the same year, he became a candidate member of the Société psychanalytique de Paris (SPP the Paris Psychoanalytic Society).

In 1936, at the fourteenth congress of the I.P.A. in Marienbad, Lacan presented what he called "the first linchpin of my contributions in psychoanalytic theory," the text of which he claimed to have "neglected to deliver" for publication in the proceedings of the congress (Lacan, 1966, p. 67). The paper was called, "The Mirror State: The Theory of a Structural and Developmental Moment in the Construction of Reality, Conceived in Relation to Psychoanalytic Experience and Teaching," a title that is known only from Lacan's biography, written by Anatole de Monzie, in the Encyclopédie française. He delivered another version of the talk at the sixteenth IPA congress in Zurich in 1949: "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience," an experience that was "at odds with any philosophy directly stemming from the cogito " (Lacan, 2002, p. 3). The ego, from Lacan's point of view, was not the entire subject, nor the subject of consciousness, but the primary narcissistic imago. The ego was evidence of a "mad passionspecific to man, stamping his image on reality" (Lacan, 2002, p. 23), and it "represents the center of all resistances to the treatment of symptoms" (Lacan, 2002, p. 118). Thus in Lacan's earliest formulations, the ego, far from being formed by reality, is opposed to it. Out of this early text came the opposition between psychical reality, external reality, and the real.

In December 1938, Lacan was elected a full member of the SPP In the same year, he wrote an article on "The Family" for volume VIII of the Encyclopédie française c , which was edited by Henri Wallon and devoted to "mental life." It was published the following March. The formulations in this article, which was a reworking of Freudian theory, were already quite Lacanian.

During the war, two of his daughters were born. His first wife, who finally obtained a divorce in 1941, had Sybille in 1940. And in 1941, his companion Sylvia Bataille had his daughter Judith, who would marry Jacques-Alain Miller in 1966.

With his first post-war writing in 1945, "Logical Time and the Assertion of Anticipated Certainty," Lacan continued with the investigation of the imaginary that he had begun in 1936, now focusing on "logical time" (as opposed to Eugène Minkowski's "experienced time," which Lacan had recently criticized in a review). Lacan argued that logical time manifested itself at the limit of the subject's "time for comprehending," when the subject was assured of an anticipated certainty in a "moment of concluding," in other words, in an act (cf. Lacan, 1945/1988, p. 10). This text foreshadowed Lacan's manipulation of time by varying the length of analytic sessions, which would become a source of controversy within the SPP and the IPA in the 1950s.

Lacan's post-war years were also marked by an ongoing debate with psychiatry, starting with "On Psychic Causality," a critique of his friend Henry Ey's organo-dynamism written in 1946 for a conference at Bonneval on the problem of the origins of neurosis and psychosis. This was followed in 1947 by a lecture on "English Psychiatry and the War," and in 1950 by a contribution to the first world conference on psychiatry, "A Theoretical Introduction to the Functions of Psychoanalysis in Criminology," written with Michel Cénac.

At the same time, Lacan participated actively in the post-war rejuvenation of the SPP, and in 1949, he collaborated on the "Policies and Tenets of the SPP's Committee on Teaching."

In 1953, during his presidency of the Society, conflicts between medical analysts (Sacha Nacht) and more liberal academic analysts (Daniel Lagache, Juliette Favez-Boutonier) led to the resignations of Françoise Dolto, Juliette Favez-Boutonier, Daniel Lagache, and Blanche Reverchon-Louve on June 16. Lacan quickly followed, and the group founded the Société française de psychanalyse (SFP, French Psychoanalytic Society) on June 18. On July 8, Lacan inaugurated the new society with a lecture "The Symbolic, the Imaginary, and the Real" (SIR), which began a new phase in his thought, marked by the prevalence of language and the symbolic over the imaginary, a concept that dated back to his elaboration of the imago and the mirror stage in 1936. He launched his return to Freud with this triad, which allowed him to differentiate between (symbolic) castration, (imaginary) frustration, and (real) privation, and also the symbolic father, the imaginary father, and the real father.

Nine days later, he married Sylvia Maklès, who had divorced Georges Bataille in 1946. In August he wrote "The Function of Speech in Psychoanalytic Experience and the Relation of Language to the Psychoanalytic Field," the original title of the lecture that he had given in Rome on September 26, 1953. Each institutional stage in Lacan's career, each crisis, served as the occasion for a significant crystallization of his thought and a theoretical advance that apparently helped him to define the moment. After the mirror stage, the "Rome Report" marked the second stage in his work.

The lecture on "The Symbolic, the Imaginary, and the Real" showed the influence of Claude Lévi-Strauss. The "Rome Report," with its opposition between language and speech and its attention to ahistorical speech that goes beyond the intentions of its subject, coincided with some of the conceptions of Heidegger, whose article "Logos" Lacan had just translated. From his thesis in 1932 until 1953, Lacan read Freud's texts in a nonsystematic way, and he differed from Freud in separating the ego from the perception-consciousness system in order to situate it in the imaginary, in accordance with his original conception of the mirror stage and the new elaboration he gave it in a 1951 lecture to the British Psychoanalytic Society, "Some Reflections on the Ego" (I.J.P., 1953).

In the fall of 1953, his public seminar at the Sainte-Anne Hospital began a reevaluation of Freud's work, much of which was only available in German or English: "This kind of teaching is a refusal of any system. . . . Freud's thought is the most perennially open to revision" (Lacan, 1953-54, p. 1). He began this revision with Freud's writings on technique. Already in the still unpublished lectures that he held from 1950 to 1953, Lacan had approached psychoanalytic technique from own perspective of varying session length. His public seminar began with the question of resistance, which he attributed to an "organization of the ego" (1953-54, p. 23), while for Freud, resistance had to do with remembering.

The ongoing seminar at Sainte-Anne was ended on November 20, 1963, with a single session on what was to be his topic for 1963-64, The Names-of-the-Father. He gave this lecture the day after his "major excommunication," the IPA's refusal to grant him the status of training analyst, and it testified to the subjective and intellectual crisis that this rejection provoked in him. To consider the father, Lacan turned towards "religion, and [what] I, for my part, call the Church" (Lacan, 1963, p. 84). More specifically, he turned to De Trinitate, by St. Augustine.

The Seminar's relocation to theÉcole normale supérieure (ENS) in the rue d'Ulm in January 1964 brought about a noticeable change in its style and content. The audience was larger and more intellectual, and Lacan addressed himself particularly to the "Normaliens," the students of the ENS until June 1969, when he was forced to leave the ENS. At the ENS, Lacan abandoned the "return to Freud" in order to develop his own thought and the foundations of psychoanalysis in his seminar The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (the unconscious, repetition, transference, and the drive). During these years he formalized his own concepts: the barred subject, /S; object a ; and the Other, which was both the Other of language and the Other scene, the scene of the dream and of the unconscious, a term that Freud borrowed from Fechner (cf. Freud, 1900a, pp. 48, 536).

On June 20, 1964, in the aftermath of his rejection by the IPA, Lacan "alone" founded theÉcole française de psychanalyse (EFP, the French School of Psychoanalysis), which was soon renamed theÉcole freudienne de Paris (Freudian School of Paris). The School saw a rapid increase in membership over its fifteen years of existence, growing from about 100 to more than 600 members.

In October 1966, Lacan made his first trip to the United States to attend a conference in Baltimore on structuralism. This conference took place shortly before the publication of hisÉcrits, a voluminous book of 924 pages in which all of his essential writings were collected.Écrits allowed Lacan to win over the general public just as he had the Normaliens and the philosophers.

On November 26, 1969, Lacan began his seminar entitled The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, which was influenced by the student protests of May 1968, by introducing his "four discourses": the discourses of the master, of the university, of the hysteric, and of the analyst. Each one was constructed out of four terms: S1, the master signifier; S2, knowledge; a, surplus enjoyment; and /S, the subject. The four discourses, or the "quadripode," anticipated the matheme that Lacan introduced in December 1971, at a series of lectures given at Sainte-Anne Hospital on the "Knowledge of the Psychoanalyst." He returned to this matheme in 1972 in his seminar Encore when he developed his graph of sexuation. According to Lacan, an algebraic mode of writing allowed for the transmission of psychoanalysis and removed the incompatibility between the discourse of analysis and the discourse of the university that was apparent in the four discourses. This argument gave Lacan grounds to sanction the expansion of psychoanalysis in the university.

His final orientation maintained the equivalence of the three coordinates. In the twenty-second year of his seminar, entitled R.S.I. (1973-1974), the symbolic, imaginary, and real were represented topologically by the Borromean knot, three rings connected in such a way that each held the two others in a circular reciprocity.

The end of Lacan's life was sad, marked as it was by political and theoretical conflicts within the EFP and by rivalry between the School and the Department of Psychoanalysis at Vincennes, directed by his son-in-law Jacques-Alain Miller.

During the seminar on Topology and Time (1978-1979), Lacan was practically mute. Finally, in a moment of lucidity, he announced the dissolution of the School that he alone had founded in a signed letter dated January 5, 1980. In February, while awaiting the legal dissolution of the EFP (which eventually took place in September), he founded the Cause freudienne (the Freudian Cause), and then in October, he "adopted" the EFP as the newÉcole de la Cause freudienne (School of the Freudian Cause).

Following the letter of dissolution, what Lacan called his "seminar" of January 15, 1980, was actually a series of sentences addressed to the newspaper Le Monde on January 26. "If it should happen that I go away, tell yourselves that it is in orderto be Other at last. One can be satisfied with being Other like everyone else, after a lifetime spent being it in spite of the Law" (Lacan, 1980, p. 135). In fact, he was hospitalized under the name of his personal physician, and died of colon cancer at the Henri-Harmann Surgical Center in Neuilly on September 9, 1981. His will, dated November 13, 1980, named Judith Miller his sole heir and his son-in-law Jacques-Alain Miller as his literary executor.

Throughout the century, Lacan met and spent time with the greatest minds of his eraJoyce, Kojève, Koyré, Dalí, Picasso, Bataille, Lévi-Strauss, Jakobson, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, and more. He had to endure the fact that no one really understood his work. His primary endeavor throughout his career was to find a theoretical basis for the speech of the analysand that leads to the transference and thus constitutes the analyst as Other. To try to find the basis for speech in anything other than itself is certainly a Faustian project, but it indicates his passion for analysis. Mallarmé's assessment of Rimbaud suits Lacan as well: he was "a considerable passer-by."

Jacques SÉdat

Work discussed:Écrits

Notions developed: Aimée, case of; Alienation; Parade of the signifier; Demand; Four discourses; Drive/instinct; Foreclosure; Formations of the unconscious; Graph of desire; I; Imaginary, the (Lacan); Imaginary identification/symbolic identification; Jouissance (enjoyment); Knot; L and R schemas; Law of the father; Letter, the; Matheme; Metaphor; Metonymy; Mirror stage; Name-of-the-Father; Object a ; Optical schema; Other, the; Pass, the; Phallus; Real, the (Lacan); Real, Symbolic, and Imaginary father; Sexuation, formulas of; Signifier/signified; Signifying chain; Subject of the unconscious; Subject's castration, the; Subject's desire; Symbolic, the (Lacan); Symptom, sinthome; Thing, the; Topology; Unary trait; Want of being/lack of being.

See also: Adaptation; Autism; Automatism; Blank/nondelusional psychoses; Body image; Cinema (criticism); Colloque sur l'Inconscient; Congrès des psychanalystes de langue française des pays romans; Criminology and psychoanalysis; Cure; Dark continent; Deferred action; Delay, Jean; Disavowal; Ego ideal; Ego ideal/ideal ego; Ethics; Ey, Henri; Fantasy; Female sexuality; Feminism and psychoanalysis; Framework of the psychoanalytic treatment; France; Frustration; Identificatory project; Imago; Infans ; Inhibition; Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious ; Kantianism and psychoanalysis; Lagache, Daniel; Libido; Linguistics and psychoanalysis; Look, gaze; Lowenstein, Rudolph M.; Mouvement lacanien francais; Nacht, Sacha Emanoel; Narcissism; Neurosis; Object; Object relations theory; Otherness; Philosophy and psychoanalysis; Phobias in children; Pichon,Édouard Jean Baptiste; Privation; Psychic causality;Psychanalyse, La ; Psychoanalyst; Psychoanalytic treatment; Psychoses, chronic and delusional; Quatrième Groupe (O.P.L.F.), Fourth Group; Repetition compulsion; Representative; Sainte-Anne hospital; Self-consciousness; Self-image; Self-representation; Sexual differences; Signifier; Société française de psychanalyse; Société psychanalytique de Paris et Institut de psychanalyse de Paris; Spinoza and psychoanalysis; Splits in psychoanalysis; Splitting; Training analysis; Structural theories; Structuralism and psychoanalysis; Subject; Symbol; Technique with adults, psychoanalytic; Wish/yearning; Word-presentation.


Dor, Joël. (1994). Nouvelle Bibliographie des travaux de Jacques Lacan. Paris: E.P.E.L.

Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. SE, 4-5.

Julien, Philippe. (1990). Pour lire Jacques Lacan. Paris: Seuil.

Lacan, Jacques. (1966).Écrits. Paris: Seuil.

. (1988, Fall). Logical time and the assertion of anticipated certainty: A new sophism (Bruce Fink, Trans.). Newsletter of the Freudian Field 2, 4-22. (Original work published 1945)

. (1988). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book I, Freud's Papers on Technique (1953-54) (John Forrester, Trans.). New York: Norton.

. (1990). Introduction to the Names-of-the-Father. In John Copjec (Ed.), Television: A challenge to the psychoanalytic establishment. New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1963)

. (1990). The other is missing. In John Copjec (Ed.). Television: A challenge to the psychoanalytic establishment. New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1963)

. (2001). AutresÉcrits. Paris: Seuil.

. (2002).Écrits: A selection (Bruce Fink, Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton.

Milner, Jean-Claude. (1995). L'Œuvre Claire. Paris: Seuil.

Further Reading

Mijolla, Alain de. (2001). Splits in the French psychoanalytic movement between 1953 and 1964. In R. Steiner and J. Johns (Eds.), Within Time and Beyond Time, A festschrift for Pearl King (pp. 1-24). London: Karnac. (Original work published 1995)

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Lacan, Jacques-Marieémile (1901-1981)

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