Jacques Lacan

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Jacques Lacan : biography

13 April 1901 – 9 September 1981

Lacan identifies four partial drives: the oral drive (the erogenous zones are the lips, the partial object the breast), the anal drive (the anus and the faeces), the scopic drive (the eyes and the gaze) and the invocatory drive (the ears and the voice). The first two relate to demand and the last two to desire. If the drives are closely related to desire, they are the partial aspects in which desire is realized—desire is one and undivided, whereas the drives are its partial manifestations.

Other concepts

  • Name of the Father
  • Foreclosure (psychoanalysis)
  • Lack (manque)
  • Objet petit a
  • The graph of desire
  • Matheme
  • Sinthome
  • The Four discourses

Writings and writing style

Most of Lacan’s psychoanalytic writings from the forties through to the early sixties were compiled with an index of concepts by Jacques-Alain Miller in the 1966 collection, titled simply Écrits. Published in French by Éditions du Seuil, they were later issued as a two-volume set (1970/1) with a new "Preface". A selection of the writings (chosen by Lacan himself) were translated by Alan Sheridan and published by Tavistock Press in 1977. The full 35-text volume appeared for the first time in English in Bruce Fink’s translation published by Norton & Co. (2006). The Écrits were included on the list of 100 most influential books of the 20th century compiled and polled by the broadsheet Le Monde.

Lacan’s writings from the late sixties and seventies (thus subsequent to the 1966 collection) were collected posthumously, along with some early texts from the nineteen thirties, in the Éditions du Seuil volume Autres écrits (2001).

Although most of the texts in Écrits and Autres écrits are closely related to Lacan’s lectures or lessons from his Seminar, more often than not the style is denser than Lacan’s oral delivery, and a clear distinction between the writings and the transcriptions of the oral teaching is evident to the reader.

Jacques-Alain Miller is the sole editor of Lacan’s seminars, which contain the majority of his life’s work. "There has been considerable controversy over the accuracy or otherwise of the transcription and editing", as well as over "Miller’s refusal to allow any critical or annotated edition to be published".David Macey, "Introduction", Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis (London 1994) p. x Despite Lacan’s status as a major figure in the history of psychoanalysis, some of his seminars remain unpublished. Since 1984, Miller has been regularly conducting a series of lectures, "L’orientation lacanienne." Miller’s teachings have been published in the US by the journal Lacanian Ink.

Lacan’s writing is notoriously difficult, due in part to the repeated Hegelian/Kojèvean allusions, wide theoretical divergences from other psychoanalytic and philosophical theory, and an obscure prose style. For some, "the impenetrability of Lacan’s prose… [is] too often regarded as profundity precisely because it cannot be understood".Richard Stevens, Sigmund Freud: Examining the Essence of his Contribution (Basingstoke 2008) p. 191n Arguably at least, "the imitation of his style by other ‘Lacanian’ commentators" has resulted in "an obscurantist antisystematic tradition in Lacanian literature".Yannis Stavrakakis, Lacan and the Political (London:Routledge, 1999) pp. 5–6

The broader psychotherapeutic literature has little or nothing to say about the effectiveness of Lacanian psychoanalysis."There doesn’t seem to be any data on the therapeutic effectiveness of Lacanian psychoanalysis in particular" Roustang, "" Though a major influence on psychoanalysis in France and parts of Latin America, Lacan’s influence on clinical psychology in the English-speaking world is negligible, where his ideas are best known in the arts and humanities.