Lacan Essay Questions

Jacques Lacan is another person who dabbled in psychooanalysis just like Freud. Lacan challenged many of Freuds ideas of the unconcious and the id/ego. Freud has many theories based on sexual development and desire. Lacan challenged those ideas by analyzing how children interpret language and the "real" as Lacan describes it. Some might say that Lacan kinds of followed in the footstep of Freud and took his ideas a step further.

The three key ideas of Lacan are

1. The Real  

The real differs from the symbolic because its the real is not accessible. The real is series of expressions and emotions that are controlled by something we are not aware of. The real is also an not accessible quality. We exist in the real, but we do not know we exist in the real. There is a sense of anxiety that is associated with the real because it can not be controlled. The real is described as lying beyond the symbolic. Hallucinations stems from feeling and emotions that were not integrated into the symbolic order are put into the real. We as human can not distingush between fiction and reality so we interpret the real as reality. When in fact the real may not be a reality. 

2. Symbolic Order 

The symbolic order is one of three orders that things can go into. The symbolic order is a realm in which our desires and emotions are stored and interpreted. Death and absence is apart of the symbolic order because we can understand these terms, but they might not be interpreted. If something is in the symbolic order, there is a sense of understanding. If something that is symbolic transfers into another or the real, that something becomes an allusion.

3. Mirror Stage 

Lacan's "mirror stage" is probably the theory that is talked about the most. This theory deals with infants and mirrors. When an infant looks his/or herself in the mirror, they become fascinated with the image until they realize that the image is not real. This goes back to the concept of the real infants can not determine between the real.  when the realized whether or not the real is present or not, they lose interest. This theory shows that we start to interpret what is real and what is imaginary based on looking in a mirror.  

Jacques Lacan,
"The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience"

  1. When was this essay written? (1949) What was its relationship to the previous psychology of the time?

  2. Why does belief in "the mirror stage" lead to a rejection of any philosophy "directly issuing from the Cogito"? (latter is too rational an interpretation)

  3. Why is the mirror stage so important? (1286, basis of dream, double) What are some of the emotions and assumptions associated with it? (The I is precipitated in primordial form.)

  4. What is the function of the mirror stage? (1287, to establish a relation between the organism and its reality)

  5. What does it mean to say that "the mirror-image would seem to be the threshold of the visible world? (1286)

  6. What flaw or "primordial Discord" seems to remain as part of the mirror-stage? (1287-88, man born too soon!)

  7. How can the "little man" compensate for a sense of "specific prematurity of birth"? (1288, succession of fantasies which create a form of totality)

  8. What projects the human being into history? (1288) Why does this cause "the assumption of the armour of an alienating identity, which will mark with its rigid structure the subject's entire mental development"? (the "mirror stage is a drama whose internal thrust is precipiated from insuficiency to anticipation," 1288)

  9. What does Lacan see as a motivation for dreams and artistic representations of dismemberment? (sense of fragmented body) For images of a fortress or castle?

  10. Can you see any application of these remarks to literary analyses?

  11. What are the features of obsessional neurosis? (inversion, isolation, reduplication, cancellation and displacement, 1288)
  12. What happens at the end of the mirror stage? (1289) What are dangers for the child henceforth? ("desire of the other . . . turns the I into that apparatus for which every instinctual thrust constitutes a danger," 1289)

  13. What is the relation of the child's ego to others, according to Lacan? What underlies our actions toward others, including charitable ones? (1289 aggression and jealousy)

  14. What does he believe is wrong with existential psychology? (limited to the exploration of consciousness)

  15. What extreme positions does he think it leads to?(belief in freedom within a prison, idealization of the sexual relation, 1290) Do you agree? (1290)

  16. What should we substitute for the notion that the ego is centered on consciousness? (1290, function of meconnaissance) What is the function of misrecognition? Why is it disturbing?

  17. What does Lacan find to be the relation of personal neuroses to social passions? (1290)

  18. What does he mean by his statement that love must undo again or sever the knot of imaginary servitude? (sense of repression and denial) Why cannot altruistic feeling exist in pure form? (1290, aggressivity underlies it)

  19. What in Lacan's view are the limitations of psychoanalysis? (cannot bring patient to the point where the real journey begins, 1291)

  20. Why may Lacan's ideas have been attractive to literary critics? Do his ideas seem gender- or culture-specific?

from "The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious"

Jacques Lacan, “The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious”

  1. What are some implications of Lacan’s claim that the unconscious is strucured like a language? (1290)
  2. Why may the subject be said to be subordinate to language, rather than to control it? (1291)
  3. What according to Lacan is the most important feature of culture? (1291, language)
  4. What does he credit with the formulation of modern linguistics? (1292, Saussure)
  5. What does the formula S/s represent for him? What is the relationship between the signifier and signified? (1293)
  6. What is his view of contemporary logical positivism, and on what grounds? (1293)
  7. What points does he intend to make with the diagram of the men’s and women’s room as a figure of the relationship between S and s? (1294)
  8. What is the point of the story about the two children who argue over whether the train has stopped at one restroom or the other? (1294)
  9. What is meant by a “signifying chain”? (1295)
  10. What does it mean to say that “the signifier, by its very nature, always anticipates meaning by unforlding its dimension before it”? (1296)
  11. What features of language supplement its linear organization? (1296-97)
  12. What points does Lacan make about the usages associated with the word “tree”? (1297-98) Why is it important that language can signify something other than what it says? (1298)
  13. What is metonomy, as he defines it? (1298) Metaphor? (1299) What are the psychological functions of metaphor and metonymy, in his view? Does he give examples? (1299-1300)
  14. What are his equations intended to represent? (1299) What do you make of them? (1299-1300)
  15. Why does he believe Freud has contributed to a discussion of identity? (1301)
  16. Why must he change the notion of “I think therefore I am” to “Where I think, there I am,” and then to “I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think”? (1300-1302, to take into account the unconscious)
  17. What final reflections does Lacan offer on the possibility of finding a key to one’s unconscious processes?
  18. What is meant by his final claim that Freud discovered the axis of the signified and signifier? (if what Freud discovered isn’t that, it isn’t anything,” 1302)

Jacques Lacan, “The Signification of the Phallus,” 1958

What does Lacan believe needs to be explained about the “castration complex” ascribed by Freudians to the male psyche? (1303)

Which of Freud’s sentiments does he cite in support of his view that this problem constitutes an impasse? (1303)

What will be his answer to the question, “What is the link between the murder of the father and the pact of the primordial law, if it is included in that law that castration should be the punishment for incest”? (1303)

What is the implication of his statement that the castration complex exists “without regard to the anatomical difference of the sexes”? Do women then experience the same effects? (1303)

How does he describe the early pyscho-sexual maturation of the child? (1303-1304) On what grounds does he disagree with other post-Freudians who have argued for the equality of women in the pyschosexual realm? (1304)

What aspects of psychological processes could Freud not have had access to? What according to Lacan is the relationship between psychic processes and language? (1305)

Are these linguistic features culturally determined, according to Lacan? (1305) What psychologist has been associated with these views?

How does Lacan define the “phallus”? (1306) What function does it serve? (signifier)

What is Lacan’s notion of “desire,” and how is this differentiated from demand, need and love? (1306-1307)

What does it mean to say that “demand annuls the particularity of everything that can be granted by transmuting it into a proof of love”? (1307)

How is desire caused? In Lacanian terms, what is demanded by both persons in a relationship? (1307) What then is wrong with Freudian and post-Freudian notions of maturation from sex to love?

Why cannot the human being aim at wholeness? (1308) What is the relation of the phallus to language and desire? (1308)

What does the subject recognize in the Other? (1309) What causes a sense of threat or nostalgia for lack? (1309)

What does Lacan posit to the be the psychological experience of women within the love relation? (1310) How does their experience differ from that of men? (1310)

How may later feminists have objected to these views?

How does Lacan explain the attraction toward virgins and/or prostitutes? (1310)

How does Lacan differentiate male and female homosexuality? (1310) Would Rich and Butler have agreed?

What “mask” is characteristic of femininity? How does Lacan explain his view that male self-display is marked as feminine? (1310)

And finally, what does he believe is the most profound function of the phallus?

Can you see ways in which Lacan’s ideas may have influenced other writers you have read? What are their limitations?

Page numbers are from The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2001.


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