Authors: Jacques Lacan

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French psychologist and critic

Author Works


De la psychose paranoïaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalité, 1932

“Le Problème du style et la conception psychiatrique des formes paranoïaques de l’expérience,” 1933

“Fonction et champ de la parole et du langage en psychanalyse,” 1956 (The Language of the Self: The Function of Language in Psychoanalysis, 1968)

“Le Séminaire sur ‘La Lettre volée,’” 1956 (“Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter,’” 1973)

“L’Instance de la lettre dans l’inconscient ou la raison depuis Freud,” 1957 (“The Insistence of the Letter in the Unconscious,” 1966)

“Le Désir et son interprétation,” 1959-1960 (“Desire and the Interpretation of Desire in Hamlet,” 1977)

“Hommage fait à Marguerite Duras du Ravissement de Lol V. Stein,” 1965

Écrits, 1966 (Ecrits: A Selection, 1977)

“Of Structure as an Inmixing of an Otherness Prerequisite to Any Subject Whatever,” 1970

Le Séminaire: Livre XI, les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse, 1973 (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1977)

Télévision, 1974 (Television, 1987)

Le Séminaire: Livre XX, Encore, 1975 (On Feminine Sexuality: The Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1998)

Le Séminaire, Livre I: Les Écrits techniques de Freud, 1975 (Freud’s Papers on Technique, 1988)

Écrits inspirés, 1975

Proposition du 9 octobre 1967, 1978

Le Séminaire: Livre II, Le Moi dans la théorie de Freud et dans la technique de la psychanalytique, 1978 (The Theory of the Ego in Psychoanalytic Theory and Practice, 1987)

Le Séminaire: Livre III, Les Psychoses, 1981

Annuaire et textes statutaires, 1982

“Joyce le symptôme,” 1982

Les Complexes familiaux, 1984 (The Family Complexes, 1988)

Le Séminaire: Livre VII, l’éthique de la psychanalyse, 1986 (The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-1960, 1992)

The Works of Jacques Lacan, 1986

Joyce avec Lacan, 1987


The literary genre favored by Jacques Marie Émile Lacan (luh-kahn) was the academic lecture, into which he mixed the forms of psychoanalytic discourse, academic rhetoric, philosophy, literary criticism, and poetry. It was largely through the spoken word, both as psychoanalyst and teacher, that Lacan was able to revise radically the status of Sigmund Freud’s writings in French culture, in the discipline of psychoanalysis, and in the practice of literary criticism. Lacan was born in Paris, son of Alfred Lacan, a businessman, and Émilie Baudry. Lacan’s attendance at a Jesuit school for his primary education is blamed by some for the mysticism and obscurity of his later thought. Surrealism, which openly acknowledged its debt to Freud in emphasizing the unconscious sources of artistic production, interested Lacan more than religion; he associated with poets and painters such as Salvador Dalí during his student days, and among his earliest publications were contributions to the Surrealist journal Minotaure. Thus Lacan’s interest in psychiatry, for which he received a doctorate in 1932, seemed to grow out of an interest in artistic and cultural processes rather than an interest in medicine–although he did receive medical training. This conflict of priorities between medical and linguistic theories of the unconscious, always the subject of dissension between Lacan and other analysts, led him to form a secessionist French Psychoanalytic School in 1953.{$I[AN]9810001010}{$I[A]Lacan, Jacques}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Lacan, Jacques}{$I[tim]1901;Lacan, Jacques}

In the same year, at the meeting of the International Psychoanalytic Society in Rome, Lacan directly confronted both the ego psychologists and the medical personnel with one of his most important lectures, The Language of the Self: The Function of Language in Psychoanalysis. Besides excoriating Lacan’s colleagues, this lecture brings together many of Lacan’s basic ideas: that psychoanalysis is based in the discourse of the patient–or more accurately, in the dialectic between analyst and patient–rather than in his physiology; that the ego is a symptom of rather than a source of strength for the patient; and that three basic orders form the human subject, the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real. Interestingly, the lecture ends with the same quotation from the Upanishads that the poet T. S. Eliot had used to close The Waste Land (1922): “Damyata, Datta, Dayadhvam” (“Submission, Gift, Grace”).

For three decades, Lacan lectured, worked, and trained analysts far from the public eye, at the Hôpital Sainte-Anne in Paris. Several events in the mid-1960’s suddenly made Lacan a household name. First, in 1964, the French Psychoanalytic School, in order to remain within the International Psychoanalytic Society, which was unhappy with Lacan, expelled its cofounder; Lacan responded by forming the École Freudienne de Paris and finding a new lecture hall at the École Normale Superieure, where he began to reach a much broader audience of students, philosophers, and literati. His lectures, dating back to the 1950’s and collectively entitled Le Seminaire, are one of the central sources of Lacan’s thought. The other is the collection Écrits, which appeared in 1966 and immediately became required reading for the Paris and European intelligentsia–the book sold five thousand copies in its first week of publication. So great did Lacan’s fame become that some newspapers even blamed him for the student revolts of 1968, which were founded on issues of desire expressed in irrational slogans such as Be Reasonable: Ask the Impossible.

Lacan’s school relocated to the University of Paris-Vincennes campus, where Lacan became the head of a department colorfully entitled “Le Champ Freudienne” (the Freudian field). In 1980 yet another coup shook the Parisian psychoanalytic community. When Lacan’s son-in-law Jacques-Alain Miller became heir apparent to Lacan’s École Freudienne de Paris, a number of Lacan’s elder colleagues, already disturbed by Lacan’s increasingly authoritarian and arbitrary decisions, protested loudly. In order to stop the internecine warfare, Lacan dissolved his school. Members eventually came together to cast their ballots under the eyes of a gravely ill Lacan. Lacan died on September 9, 1981, shortly after founding his last school, the École de la Cause Freudienne.

Lacan is sometimes called a structural psychoanalyst because of the influence that structuralist thought had on his theories. From anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss–himself profoundly influenced by Freud–Lacan derived ideas of culture as a myth or a dream, that is, as the creation of a higher system of signs out of language and other artifacts. Lacan used linguist Roman Jakobson’s discussion of metaphor and metonymy to redefine the terms “condensation” and “displacement,” according to Freud the two chief devices of the unconscious. Virtually all structuralist theory takes language as its model. Hence another important idea in Lacan is that the unconscious is structured like a language. Like much of Lacan, this pronouncement seems open to endless interpretations, but it clearly shows the central position taken up by language in Lacan’s thought. Thus, perhaps Lacan’s essential rewriting of Freud is a distinction, elaborated at a very early stage of his career, between the Imaginary and the Symbolic orders. The Imaginary order, which corresponds roughly with Freud’s pre-Oedipal stage, is one in which images predominate over symbols. Lacan bases his belief in the importance of this order on clinical observations of the infant regarding with fascination its own image in a mirror, imagining itself for the first time to be whole and integral–thus the illusory formation of the ego. Lacan then reinterprets the Oedipal situation or castration complex as the intervention of language and culture in the relationship between mother and child. Not the father himself but the “name of the father” (“nom [non] du père”), or the Symbolic, becomes the third party in the Oedipal triangle. Lacan redefines the object of Oedipal conflict, the phallus, as the signifier of desire, of that demand which, for the first time in the life of an infant, goes beyond real need satiable with an object. Thus Lacan redefined the Oedipal triangle in purely positional terms and as a process of signification.

It is widely said that Lacan’s importance to the discipline of psychoanalysis is second only to Freud’s own. Yet while Lacan insists upon Freud’s scientificity, Lacan’s work seems more geared toward the linguist, philosopher, and literary critic. Lacan’s place within contemporary French culture is so central that his name appears in introductory language textbooks. The American psychoanalytic community has been unsympathetic to Lacanian ideas for various reasons: Lacan’s detestation of “ego psychology”; his rejection of psychoanalysis as a “cure”; his short psychoanalytic sessions (sometimes lasting only five minutes); and perhaps the sheer metaphoric density of his oeuvre. Yet the texture of Lacan’s language does seem to follow naturally from his (or Freud’s) basic principles of unconscious processes. In the literary world, Lacan’s obscurity and punning playfulness strike some serious minds as arbitrary and insincere; for others, however, Lacan has grasped the essence of literature’s power, namely its source in the unconscious. Lacan’s claim that there is no essential difference between literature and psychoanalysis has moved the artist from the position of patient to the position of analyst. Though Lacan also deemphasizes the difference between those positions, literary critics are grateful for having a psychoanalytic method which does not treat the artist as diseased, or the work as a mere symptom.

BibliographyAlthusser, Louis. “Freud and Lacan.” In Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays. Translated by Ben Brewster. 1971. Reprint. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2001. A seminal Marxist literary theorist discusses Lacanian psychoanalysis and art.Benvenuto, Bice, and Roger Kennedy. The Works of Jacques Lacan: An Introduction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986. A straightforward, chronologically oriented discussion of Jacques Lacan’s key writings from his early years until his death.Bowie, Malcolm. “Jacques Lacan.” In Structuralism and Since: From Lévi-Strauss to Derrida, edited by John Sturrock. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1979. This essay provides a brief introduction to Lacan’s thought and is a good place to begin reading about him.Clark, Michael. Jacques Lacan: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1988. A good guide to the many Lacanian studies, which also contains biographical information and its own introduction to Lacan’s thought.Evans, Dylan. An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. London: Routledge, 1996. A lucid explanation of many of Lacan’s technical terms, how he came to change them during his career, and some of his influences.Feldstein, Richard, Bruce Fink, and Maire Jaanus, eds. Reading Seminars I and II: Lacan’s Return to Freud. New York: State University of New York Press, 1996. This book offers a series of in-depth essays that discuss theoretical foundations and clinical applications of Lacan’s work. Authors include Jacques-Alain Miller, Colette Soler, and Slavoj žižek.Grosz, Elizabeth. Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction. London: Routledge, 1995. A lucid overview of Lacan’s work from a feminist perspective, providing an introduction to many of his seminal ideas as well as both objections and support from feminist thinkers.Leader, Darian, and Judy Groves. Introducing Lacan. Reprint. New York: Totem Books, 1998. The comic book presentation of Lacan, which provides an amusingly illustrated and basic outline of many of the philosopher’s ideas, is an excellent resource for a beginner.Marini, Marcelle. Jacques Lacan: The French Context. Translated by Anne Tomiche. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992. A succinct overview of Lacan’s work in general and the cultural context of his professional life.Rabaté, Jean-Michel. Jacques Lacan: Psychoanalysis and the Subject of Literature. New York: Palgrave, 2001. A thorough exposition of Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory as it regards literature. Includes close Lacanian readings of writers from classical Greece through the twentieth century.Roudinesco, Elisabeth. Jacques Lacan: Outline of a Life, History of a System of Thought. Translated by Barbara Bray. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. An extensive and carefully researched account of Lacan’s life by a French scholar and historian of psychoanalysis in France.Turkel, Sherry. Psychoanalytic Politics: Freud’s French Revolution. 2d ed. New York: Guilford Press, 1992. Lacan is the central figure in this account of the reception of Freud and psychoanalysis in French culture in the decades after 1945.Walton, Priscilla. Patriarchal Desire and Victorian Discourse: A Lacanian Reading of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser Novels. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995. Applies Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory to nineteenth century British novels, focusing in particular on female characters.žižek, Slavoj. Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan Through Popular Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997. An accessible and eloquent account that elucidates key Lacanian notions through an application to certain components of film and fiction in popular culture.
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