Jacques Lacan and Sigmund Freud: Application Manual

By Enriqueta

January 17, 2019


For the last several decades it’s been voguish to criticize the founding fathers of psychoanalysis, and the first whipping boy is of course the Austrian Sigmund Freud, the man who invented the term itself. The rise and fall of psychoanalysis is dramatic, and although it’s still here and, above all, it’s very likely here to stay, it continues to suffer from inconsistent treatment and its legacy receives wildly incongruent diagnoses from outside.

Instead of adding insult to injury and oil to the flame, let’s have a look at what we can do with the near-fossilized figures in psychoanalysis and the thoughts they produced.

Legacy Issue and Psychoanalysis

As it happens quite often, previous musings happen to be more profound and far-reaching than those built upon them.  For instance, let’s consider the opposition between the “core postmodernism literature” and the so-called “new sincerity” movement that followed it near the turn of the century. The world seemed really weary of irony and wordplay at a certain point in time, and then different movements began to emerge – those criticizing the bedrocks of postmodernism as something contributing to pervasive distancing from eternal problems of humanity, nurturing numerous non-engagement trends. The thing is this “postpostmodernism” movement made extensive use of forms tried-and-tested by its predecessor, and in this regard failed to reach up to it in its pure intellectualism and scope of problems uncovered (not solved, of course, and here lies another problem: the fatigue effect because of simply stating or pointing out to problems, instead of coming up with suggestions, let alone solutions – that’s beyond functions of fiction for the record,  but that’s just another topic to reflect upon). Certainly, these conclusions are far from being sentence-like. They are highly subjective, but they succeed in demonstrating on a large scale the curious logic behind cultural and academic phemonena in their continuity.

Something similar happened to psychoanalysis: that’s not to say it suggested something more sophisticated (in fact, it did not), but the reaction in the form of behavioristic approaches discarding the search of profound reasons behind our actions and concentrating instead on the “visible” part does feel a bit frustrating at times.

So, dealing with Freud and Lacan requires several warnings to be made.

Brain Biology vs Psychoanalysis

Of course you can succumb to the tension and criticism and persuade yourself to choose your camp beforehand. But in fact, you don’t need to.  Each approach will reveal something you never knew before, and though there still can be some terrains of forced intersection between the two, there’s nothing wrong in your guilty pleasure whatever it may be (psychoanalysis is a much more likely candidate, though, in case you consider it to be so).

Freud Is Too Straightforward

Studying Freud tends to easily come down to his several key concepts laying basis for his theory: pleasure principle, reality principle, libido etc. Instead of studying everything off the reel try to simply read Freud first.

Lacan Is Way Too Hard to Read

Along with Derrida, Lacan is emblematic in being regarded as a “difficult writer”. Sometimes to the point that some scholars consider his writings to be “nonsense”. Let them think it as they wish, just be prepared to work your way through the texts, and make no doubt, it won’t be an easy ride.

So, What to Do?

Maybe its attention to the abstract and invisible is the strongest side of psychoanalysis, triggering our imagination like not so many other doctrines do. Read Freud and Lacan not for the sake of result/understanding/light-bulb moment, but as a sort of metafiction going beyond (or coming back to?) pleasure principle, and eventually leaving humanity some hope. Who knows, may be that’ll be your most cherished epiphany.



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