Jacques Lacan was a renowned philosopher and an extremely controversial psycho-analyst, who ranked amongst the most notable academics of Parisian society during the 20th Century. His theories and research have immensely benefitted critical theory, French philosophy, sociology, feminist theory, literary theory, film theory and clinical psychoanalysis.
Jacques Lacan was born as Jacques Marie Emile Lacan on April 13, 1901, in Paris, France. Jacques belonged to a prosperous bourgeois family and was raised in a Catholic household. He was a brilliant student, and particularly excelled in philosophy and Latin. During the 1920s, he was enrolled in a medical school, where he studied psychoanalysis under the guidance of renowned psychiatrist Gaitan de Clerambault. Later, Jacques studied at the Faculte de Medecine de Parise, where he was introduced to diseases like automatism, a disease that leads a person to believe that his actions, thoughts, and speech are controlled by an external force. His interaction with such patients contributed to his learning.
Lacan became a member of the rapidly spreading psychoanalytical movement that had taken over France. In 1932, Lacan wrote his doctoral thesis, titled “De la psychose paranoïaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalité”, which dealt with the comparison and connections between psychoanalysis and psychiatric medication. This period of Lacan’s life, marks the gradual evolution of his psychiatric principles, he moved away from conventional psychiatric practices towards inculcating Freud’s psychoanalytical concepts, which eventually became his own psychological principle while diagnosing and treating. In 1936, Lacan formulated his theory of the “Mirror Stage”, and he published several articles and papers explaining the significance and development of this subject. The mirror stages deals with the ability of a 6-18 months old infant to be able to recognize itself in the mirror before developing his motor or speech skills. The infant must be able to recognize its own image, as well as be able to differentiate its image from that of another’s. The attainment of this ability marks the child’s succession towards language skills, and the development of ego.
Lacan’s renowned and remarkable lectures delivered in Rome in 1953, are published as “The Discourse of Rome”, this work was adopted as the official manifesto of the Société française de psychanalytique (SFP), established by Lacan after breaking away with the International Psycho-Analytical Association (IPA). Lacan weekly seminars at the St. Anne’s Church attracted great audiences, and contained imminent personalities that included prominent linguists, philosophers and thinkers such as Barthes, Foucault, Levi-Strauss, and Althusser. These lectures have also contributed to his major work, “Ecrits”.
In 1953, Lacan devoted his time to the study of structural linguistics, and developing an understanding of Freud’s theories. He believed that Freud, like him, agreed that human psychology is based on linguistics rather than a biological makeup. Lacan proposed that the unconscious is “structured like a language” and “governed by the order of the signifier”. Lacan began translating Heidegger’s work in to French, and Heidegger’s theories had a significant impact on Lacan’s perceptions, as displayed in his essay, titled “The Function and Field of Speech in Psychoanalysis”, where he describes subjectivity as a symbolic constitution. Hegel also had a profound influence on Lacan’s work.
Although he was considered unconventional and unorthodox in his psychoanalytical treatments, Lacan was the first to introduce structural linguistics to psychoanalytical theory. His lectures provided analysis of his theories, and his case studies provided his theories in practice, thus all his work made it evident that language plays a vital role in the psychological development of human beings. According to Lacanian psychoanalysis, language is one of the Symbolic order, while the Imaginary and the Real form the other two. The Imaginary is the lack of reality and misinterpretation of nature, while the Real is comprehensive and understandable.
During the 1960s and towards the early 70s, Lacan began to drive further away from traditional psychoanalysis and Freudian teachings, and developed his own school of thought, which became famous as the “Lacanian” school of thought notable for his complex diagrams and neologisms. He proposed that the ego is the seat of neurosis, while the Symbolic order is the key place for subject formation. In 1963, Lacan established the Ecole Freudienne de Paris (EEP), devoted to continuing and reviving Freud’s work by introducing new and innovative ideas to the original work. The training given at the Lacan’s school was based on radically unconventional methods, and this led to increased conflict and tension between Lacan and the orthodox psychoanalytic community. In 1974, he accepted the position of the Scientific Director at the University of Paris, in Vincennes, along with heading the department of psychoanalysis. Under Lacan, the department strived to give psychoanalytical training a scientific element by inculcating logic and mathematics as well as strong emphasis on linguistics.