Jacques Lacan


Jacques Lacan : biography

13 April 1901 – 9 September 1981

In the mirror stage a "misunderstanding" (méconnaissance) constitutes the Ego—the "me" (moi) becomes alienated from itself through the introduction of an imaginary dimension to the subject. The mirror stage also has a significant symbolic dimension, due to the presence of the figure of the adult who carries the infant. Having jubilantly assumed the image as their own, the child turns their head towards this adult, who represents the big Other, as if to call on the adult to ratify this image.Lacan, Tenth Seminar, "L’angoisse," 1962–1963


While Freud uses the term "other", referring to der Andere (the other person) and "das Andere" (otherness), under the influence of Alexandre Kojève, Lacan’s use is closer to Hegel’s.

Lacan often used an algebraic symbology for his concepts: the big Other is designated A (for French Autre) and the little other is designated a (italicized French autre). He asserts that an awareness of this distinction is fundamental to analytic practice: "the analyst must be imbued with the difference between A and a, so he can situate himself in the place of Other, and not the other."Lacan, J., "The Freudian Thing" and "Psychoanalysis and its Teaching" in Écrits. Dylan Evans explains that:

"1. The little other is the other who is not really other, but a reflection and projection of the Ego. He [autre] is simultaneously the counterpart and the specular image. The little other is thus entirely inscribed in the imaginary order.

2. The big Other designates radical alterity, an other-ness which transcends the illusory otherness of the imaginary because it cannot be assimilated through identification. Lacan equates this radical alterity with language and the law, and hence the big Other is inscribed in the order of the symbolic. Indeed, the big Other is the symbolic insofar as it is particularized for each subject. The Other is thus both another subject, in his radical alterity and unassimilable uniqueness, and also the symbolic order which mediates the relationship with that other subject."Dylan Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 133.

"The Other must first of all be considered a locus," Lacan writes, "the locus in which speech is constituted".Lacan, Seminar III: The Psychoses. We can speak of the Other as a subject in a secondary sense only when a subject occupies this position and thereby embodies the Other for another subject.Lacan, Seminar VIII: Le transfert.

In arguing that speech originates not in the Ego nor in the subject but rather in the Other, Lacan stresses that speech and language are beyond the subject’s conscious control. They come from another place, outside of consciousness—"the unconscious is the discourse of the Other."Lacan, J., "Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’" in Écrits. When conceiving the Other as a place, Lacan refers to Freud’s concept of psychical locality, in which the unconscious is described as "the other scene".

"It is the mother who first occupies the position of the big Other for the child," Dylan Evans explains, "it is she who receives the child’s primitive cries and retroactively sanctions them as a particular message". The castration complex is formed when the child discovers that this Other is not complete because there is a "Lack (manque)" in the Other. This means that there is always a signifier missing from the trove of signifiers constituted by the Other. Lacan illustrates this incomplete Other graphically by striking a bar through the symbol A; hence another name for the castrated, incomplete Other is the "barred Other."Lacan, J., "The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious" in Écrits and Seminar V: Les formations de l’inconscient

Feminist thinkers have both utilised and criticised Lacan’s concepts of castration and the Phallus. Some feminists have argued that Lacan’s phallocentric analysis provides a useful means of understanding gender biases and imposed roles, while other feminist critics, most notably Luce Irigaray, accuse Lacan of maintaining the sexist tradition in psychoanalysis.Irigary, Luce, This Sex Which Is Not One 1977, (Eng. trans. 1985) For Irigaray, the Phallus does not define a single axis of gender by its presence/absence; instead, gender has two positive poles. Like Irigaray, Jacques Derrida, in criticizing Lacan’s concept of castration, discusses the phallus in a chiasmus with the hymen, as both one and other.Derrida, Jacques, Dissemination (1983). Other feminists, such as Judith Butler, Avital Ronell, Jane Gallop, and Elizabeth Grosz, have interpreted Lacan’s work as opening up new possibilities for feminist theory.Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (1993); Gallop, Jane, Reading Lacan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985;Elizabeth A. Grosz, Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction