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Jeff Lang


Mr. Roberts

Lacanian Psychoanalysis and 'Surfacing'

The theories of Jacques Lacan give explanation and intention to the narrator's actions throughout the novel "Surfacing". Although Margaret Atwood may not have had any knowledge of the French psychoanalyst's philosophies, I feel that both were making inferences on behavior and psychology and that the two undeniably synchronize with each other. I will first identify the complex philosophies of Jacques Lacan and then demonstrate how the narrator falls outside of Lacan's view of society and how this leads to her demand for retreat from that society in order to become 'whole'.

Jacques Lacan was a French psychoanalyst that derived many of his theories from Sigmund Freud. His views of the conscious and unconscious being split and a phallocentric order as the center of society evolved from Freud's. Lacan views our development in life as three stages or phases that one must enter into in order to become a part of society. The goal of these phases is the stabilization of signifiers. 'Signifiers', the elements of memory that make up the unconscious are floating around the unconscious. These 'signifiers' are held together by the phallocentric order which is realized in the stages of development. This may be confusing, but related to the narrator it becomes clearer. The narrator was raised in a distinct situation. When she enters into society she does not have the typical experiences of that society and therefore does not feel that she is part of it. She returns to the lake and feels she can no longer be a part of this society because the 'phallocentric order' is distorted. This is a brief explanation. First, Lacan's formation of 'self' and 'Other' must be understood in great detail.

The first of the three phases of development is the REAL, "Lacan\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s infant starts out as something inseparable from its mother; there\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s no distinction between self and other, between baby and mother (at least, from the baby\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s perspective). The baby has no sense of self or individual identity, and no sense even of its body as a coherent unified whole. There\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s no distinction between it and anyone or anything else; there are only needs and things that satisfy those needs. This is the state of \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"nature,\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\" which has to be broken up in order for culture to be formed."(Klages, 1). Lacan's philosophies go on to say that language is always about this loss or absence that happens when we enter into culture; you only need words when the object you want is gone. If your world were all fullness, with no absence, then you wouldn\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'t need language. This is the state to which the narrator wants to return. She is deeply disturbed by the identity that has befallen her. I use the word befallen because it is this disparity, of having needs and no way to express or fulfill them, that the narrator wants to escape from and return to the original state of 'nature'. We must understand the narrator's position in society in order to understand why she wants to return to the REAL.

The second phase, the Imaginary, is where our sense of self is formed. It must be noted that the process of forming a self is a settlement for having left the REAL and a labor to regain that oneness, " The fiction of the stable, whole, unified self that we see in the mirror becomes a compensation for having lost the original oneness with the mother\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s body. In short, according to Lacan, we lose our unity with the mother\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s body, the state of \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"nature,\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\" in order to enter culture, but we protect ourselves from the knowledge of that loss by misperceiving ourselves as not lacking anything--as being complete unto ourselves."(Klages, 2). The narrator early on in life has views of society, while she is going through her scrapbook she notes, "They were ladies, all kinds: holding up cans of cleanser, knitting, smiling, modeling toeless high heels and nylons with dark seams and pillbox hats with veils...I did want to be those things". She wants to fill the gap that has been left by her entrance into the Imaginary by becoming just like her mother. It will be my point to demonstrate later that the narrator falls outside the phallocentric order formed by her entry into the third phase, the SYMBOLIC.

The symbolic is the entrance into society itself, also known as the Phallus, Other with a capital o, and the Name of the Father. Laciness' idea of a governing principal in society is very similar to Freud's. The structuring principle determines how we form our view of self and how others do the same.

The center has a lot of names in Lacanian theory. It\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s the Other; it\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s also called the PHALLUS. The Other (capital O) is a structural position in the Symbolic order. It is the place that everyone is trying to get to, to merge with, in order to get rid of the separation between \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"self\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"



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