Splitting of the Subject

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"Splitting" (in French, "refente") is one of the translations Jacques Lacan proposed for the German "Spaltung" when he discussed how the subject is divided in subordination to the signifier.

In 1958, at the end of Les formations de l 'inconscient (1998), book 5 of his seminar, Lacan introduced the written symbol to refer to the effects of the signifier on the subject. He proposed the French term "refente" some time later to translate the English term "splitting," itself a translation of the term employed by Freud, "Spaltung," which, in Lacan's view, indicated this same dimension.

As early as 1953 Lacan emphasized an initial division "that precludes . . . any reference to totality in the individual." This division differentiates the ego from the subject and consciousness from the unconscious. A person does not speak about the subject; the id speaks about it. A signifier represents the subject, but before disappearing under this signifier, the subject is nothing.

The signifier represents the subject for the signifier that exists in the Other (the primary caregiver). This operation alienates the subject, and through alienation produces the subject. The second operation is separation. It results in the splitting of the subject. There is no answer in the Other to the question of the subject's being. Instead, the subject encounters the desire of the Other, that is, its own lack, the juncture where the subject's fantasy will form.

The "division of the subject," the term that Lacan used most frequently to translate "Spaltung," corresponds to the written notation. Other words have also been proposed for this notion: not only "refente," but also "coupure" (cut) and "évanouissement" (disappearance, vanishing) in French, as well as "eclipse," "fading," and "aphanisis" in English.

Alain Vanier

See also: Alcoholoism; Alteration of the ego; Amnesia; Castration complex; Defense mechanisms; Ego; False self; Fetishism; Perversion; Projective identification; "Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes"; Splitting of the ego; "Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defence"; Splitting of the object; Splitting, vertical and horizontal; Transsexualism.


Lacan, Jacques. (1966). Du sujet enfin en question.Écrits, pp. 229-236. Paris: Seuil.

. (1998). Le séminaire. Book 5: Les formations de l 'inconscient. Paris: Seuil. (Delivered in 1957-1958)