– the French Freud?
French intellectual life appears to exercise a
fascination, some might say a dreadful influence, on
the .English intellectual avant-garde. In the 1960s
it was the tortuous debate between Sartre and LeviStrauss; in the 1970s, the ‘true’, dehumanised Marxism
of Althusser; and as we enter the 1980s, we have a new
master, embodied in the labyrinthine prose of Jacques
Lacan. The ‘theory of the subject’ is with us and
Freud has, at last, been assimilated into Parisian
debate, and in this process, into Marxism itself.
And yet, doubts exist. How far are we still with
Freud? Is the Marx/Freud marriage legitimate? One
is initially bedazzled by La.can’s elephantine prose,
beguiled by his new conceptual armoury, a uniting of
Freud and linguistics, in whose glossaries the word
‘real’ is defined under the entry for ‘imaginary’.
And then comes the act of interpretation, an act in
which many have already failed, and many will continue
to do so. Was Lacan a Gongorist  given to deliberate obscurantism? Was he speaking to us directly from
his unconscious, enjoining us to psychoanalyse his
works? Did he believe that all language, especially
that which is clear and concise, is ideological, and
that total unclarity is as close as we can attain to
non-ideology?  Or are we being duped by a con-man
masquerading as a prophet? Whatever we ape faced with
it will not go away if we ignore it, as Edward
Thompso~ has already warned us of in the case of
Althusser . The act of interpretation must be
boldly attempted. But how?
Two strategies suggest themselves. One is
embodied in Anika Lemaire’s Laean , which had the
approval of the godhead, and involves presenting
Lacan within his own universe of discourse, a universe
not renowned for its clarity and straight-forwardness.
There is little attempt to translate into alternative
universes, so that one is left with Lacan at secondhand,)but in broadly the same words. And it is often
the very words which are so recalcitrant. A second
strategy simply involves an attempt to present Lacan
. in non-Lacanian language, as Bar  and Wollheim
 have tentatively adventured. If this involves a
terrible injustice to the man himself then the risk
has to be taken. Better some Lacan than no Lacan at
all! The effort will be especially rewarding if the
result is more clarity and understanding and, as I
suspect, more awareness of two crucial factors:
firstly, that Lacan’s works have much Zess to say
than might appear to be the case; secondly, that this
work is, at,best, an eccentric reading of Freud.
The above may appear disparaging and to be prejudging the issue. Its tone arises from three
contexts: (i) ten months of wrestling with Lacan’s
texts; Cii) a developing awareness that Freud had
already said all that is important in Lacan in a far
more accessible form and, by implication, that what
is new in Lacan is radically non-Freudian; (iii) a
developing annoyance with unclarity, with a position
that sees the world as so opaque that study of it
yields only incomprehensible edifices in front of
which the mind reels.
The Three Processes
Three processes are crucial for Lacan in any understanding of the person and of his entry into the
world of rules, of society. One of the processes is
centrally Freudian, the Oedipus situation, which
initiates the individual into social rules and prohibitions. One is discussed by Freud, but is hardly
central – the fopt/da game  which Freud observed
his l8-month-old nephew playing. For Lacan, this game
forms the basis for language usage, for the alienation
of the self, and for the substitution of demand for
desire. The third process is pure Lacan – the mirror
phase, in which ideas of the person, the self, the
ego, the other are acquired.
A diagram may suffice to produce a little order,
and on it we can hang a number of Lacanian concepts:
‘objet petit a’
Process One – the entry into language
Language is the key to Lacan, and Lacan’s basic project
is to provide a linguistic version of Freud. There
are two major concerns for Lacan: the nature of
language and its relationship to the unconscious; the
way in which the individual acquires language, the
model for which is the fopt/da game alluded to earlier.
(i) The nature of language and its relationship to
For Lacan, language substitutes a sign for reality,
so ‘it is the world of words that creates the world of
things’ . The mechanisms involved in this substitution are precisely the same as those which Freud saw
as basic to the workings of the unconscious. Where
Freud talks of condensation and displacement as
indicative of the workings of dreams, Lacan talks of
their equivalents, metaphor and metonymy, as basic to
the ‘structure’ of the unconscious and of language .
Following de Saussure, some would say eccentrically,
in defining the linguistic sign as a unity of signifier and signified, Lacan sees the relationships
between these as characterised by metaphor and metonymy. What this leads Lacan to is to identify four
central roles for language. Firstly, as the condition
of the workings of the unconscious, such that ‘language
is the condition of the unconscious … it creates and
gives rise to the unconscious’ . Secondly,
language is seen as the basis for an alienation between
self and the world, producing a ‘true’ self (the Other,
with the capital ‘0’) and a self-for-others (the ego,
the cult figure of American psychoanalysis). This
alienation involves a distinction between an infinity
of desires, unrealisable because of social rules, and
a finitude of demands, allowable by society. The
acceptance of a part rather than the totality is, for
Lacan, the basis both for the learning of language ‘Confronted with an object it cannot have, the subject
posits a symbol’  – and for his identifying the
acquisition of language with the origins of primal
Thirdly, language provides us with the basis for
the understanding of psychoanalytic symptoms, such
that ‘ … the symptom resolves itself entirely in an
analysis of language, because the symptom is itself
structured like a language, because it is from
language that speech must be delivered’ . Fourthly, language is the basis for the cure by the psychoanalyst . So, ‘The unconscious is that part of
the concrete discourse, insofar as it is transindividual, that is not at the disp05al of the subject in
re-establishing the continuity of his concrete discourse’ . ‘What we teach the subject to recognise [in analysis] as his unconscious is his
(ii) The acquisition of language
The analogue for language acquisition is, for Lacan,
contain~d in Freud’s discussion of the fort/da game
. The game involved an 18-month-old child
making objects disappear and reappear to the accompaniment of noises, noises similar to the German words
for ‘there it goes’ (fort) and ‘here it is’ (da).
Freud provides four possible explanations for this
game. Firstly, the game can be seen to represent the
achievement of instinctual renunciation, allowing the
child to understand and to .deal with the successive
absences and presences of its mother. Freud notes an
interesting parallel to this game in the child making
himself disappear and appear in the mirror. Secondly,
the child turned to the game as a means to be active,
to control the world. Rather than passively accepting his mother’s behaviour, he could control her
behaviour through a system of symbols. Thirdly, the
child is seen to indulge in the game as a process of
defiance, much in the manner of ‘go away, I don’t
need you’. Finally, the game is seen, by Freud, to
involve a gain in pleasure (the return) only through
an initial unpleasure (the departure). It is this
latter interpretation which is, for Freud, the most
The interpretation of the game by Lacan is related
directly to only the first of these explanations: it
is the experience of the absence and presence of the
mother which institutes the earliest use of language.
The child learns language (or rather basic linguistic
units, perhaps phonemes), as he learns the renunciation of instincts – he rejects the infinity of des·
ires, and accepts the limited range of demands. At
the same time, language learning leads to the development of a distinction between self and others: ‘ …
it is in and through language that man constitutes
himself as a subject’ .
However, there is here what Lacan terms a split,
between discourse which produces a subject-forothers (an ego), and discourse about a ‘true’ subject;
. what Lacan is inclined to call the discourse of the
unconscious. It is, as we shall see later, the
revealing of this unconscious discourse which is the
real purpose of psychoanalysis.
Process Two – the development of self, other and ego
If the construction built upon Freud’s discussion of
the fort/da game – that it is the analogue for all
language and for the child’s entry into the linguistic
world – is surprising, then Lacan takes an equally
eccentric model for the child’s discovery of self, of
others and of the ego – what he terms the ‘mirror
Self-recognition in the mirror, which precedes
language acquisition, occurs for the child between
the ages of 6 and 8 months, and occurs in three
stages . Firstly, the child confuses the reflection with reality, trying to touch it, looking behind
the mirror, and if with an adult confusing the two
images. Secondly, the child realises that the image
in the mirror is not a real thing. Finally, he
realises that the image is of himself, and is different from the images of other people. Linked to these
processes is how the child deals with other children
– he will imitate behaviour, be aggressive towards
them, but will also cry if he sees them~urt.
In general, for Lacan, the mirror stage is ‘the
first articulation of the “I'” , and has two
roles to play: a positive one of presenting the body
as a totality for the child for the first time; but
also a negative one of providing an alienation in
that the child enters a dual relationship with an ‘I’
which is not itself – for Lacan, this prefigures the
development of the ego, of a self-for-others. Thus:
. .. this moment of self-identification is
crucial … because it represents a permanent
tendency of the individual: the tendency which
leads him throughout his life to seek and foster
the imaginary wholeness of an ‘ideal ego’.
There is, for Lacan, a basic incompleteness, absence
and lack in human living which the ego gets rid of
spuriously. Lacan’s aim in psychoanalysis is to
subvert the ego and, in so doing, to reinstate the id.
Process Three·- the Oedipus complex, the father and
If Lacan is credible, then we now have language, conceptions of self and others, and the unconscious has
been hidden beneath a welter of symbols. What needs
explaining now is the acceptance of society and its
rules. The Oedipus complex has always been central
~o Freudianism, and Lacan gives it an especial promlnence, although in a linguistic form, as the Name-ofthe-Father. The Oedipus situation moves the child
from a dual relationship with its mother, into a
triadic, family relationship involving mother/father/
child, in which the father is the law-giver possessed
of penis-power! In the Oedipus situation, sexuality
is subjected to social rules and restrictions.
For Lacan, ‘it is in the name of the father that
we must recognise the support of the symbolic function
which, from the dawn of history, has identified his
person with the figure of the law’ . This father
condemns the individual to non-satisfaction of desire,
legislates for society’s rules (for ‘demand’ in
Lacanian terminology), producing a mixture of aggression and subservience (the Hege1ian master/slave
The development of the Oedipus situation is seen tc
go through a number of stages: initially, the child
desires to do and be everything for the mother, to
complete the mother’s essential lack of a penis. Subsequently, the father intervenes, depriving the child
of his object of desire, and depriving the mother of
the phallic object. Finally, there is the identification of the child with the father, which involves a
recognition on the child’s part that language is the
privileged function of the father. Language is the
gain for the loss of desire and of the mother; it is
the root of the incest taboo.
It is noticeable that for Lacan we are in the
world of symbols:
The existence of a symbolic father does not
depend upon the recognition of the connection
between coition and childbirth …. The father
is present only through his law, which is
speech, and only insofar as his speech is
recognised by the mother does it take on the
value of Law.
The child’s separation from the mother is, for Lacan,
a symbolic castration; what is given in return is
language, culture and civilisation – the totality of
systems of symbolisation. The Oedipus situation is
therefore part of the move from desire to demand:
The desire to be the phallus which is
lacking in the mother, the desire for union
with the mother, is repressed and replaced
by a substitute which names it and at the
same time transforms it: the symbol.
What Lacan claims to have given us in these three
processes is the making of language, of the individual, and the individual’s entry into society. Three
characteristics of the Lacanian model are already
clear: (i) its unclarity; (ii) its rejection of the
need for empirical proof; (iii) its stress on the
role of the symbol and the process of symbolisation.
assumes that the starting point is readily identified.
However, the nature and import of the originals is far
from clear. Ricoeur can see Freud as solely a hermeneutic man , whereas Su110way sees him as a man of
mechanism, with the stress on meaning and interpretation as much about the mythology of psychoanalysis as
about anything . Both, of course, see meaning and
mechanism as alternatives and irreconci1ab1es.
As Robinson suggests , both the unconscious
and sex have lost attention in much neo-Freudianism,
for example in the work of Fromm. What Lacan does is
to bring them back in – albeit in symbolic form together with c. strong anti- bio10gism and a clobbering
of the therapy-is-adjustment schools, and cements the
whole thing together with structural linguistics.
Thus there is a strong polemic in Lacan, aimed at two
sources: at those who have bana1ised Freud; and at
Freud himself when he fails to live up to his message,
as he is seen to do in his early ‘scientific’ work
and his later work on the ego, both of which come in
for a Lacanian trouncing.
2 The problem of science
Lacan has postulated two distinct discourses which
the individual ‘uses’ , a conscious discourse for
others, yielding a subject-for-others,’ and an unconscious discourse, which yields the true subject.
This latter discourse constantly irrupts into the
former. This distinction leads Lacan to approach the
problem of science from two directions:
(i) He takes a clearly anti-Cartesian position, in
particular over the unity of being and conscious
thought. Lacan’s Descartes is asserting that ‘I think
therefore I am’ equals ‘I am conscious that I think
therefore I am’. This identification of the subject
with consciousness is both restrictive, in making no
allowance for the unconscious, and is repressive.
For Lacan, ‘science is an ideology of the suppression
of the subject’ , and he presents us’with an unconscious view of the cogito asserting that, ‘I think
where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think’
(ii) Lacan sees Freud as trying to bridge a gap which
science has constructed so strongly, that between
rationality and desire. It is clear that Lacan sees
the ‘I wish’ of Freud as equivalent to, and at least
as significant as Descartes’ ‘I think’.
Science is ideological to the extent that it denies
the unconscious and to the extent that it reduces
wishing to an insignificant place in human behaviour.
Some themes in Lacan’s work
1 The return to Freud
Freud’s work was only tardily accepted in France,
perhaps only fully with the works of Lacan himself.
This acceptance produced a massive schjsm in the
psychoanalytical establishment, including Lacan’s
expulsion from the International Psychoanalytical
Association in 1953. Lacan’s call for a return to
Freud is in the face of many deviations, real and
imagined, but including (and especially) American ego
psychology. Lacan wishes to reinstate the central
concepts of psychoanalysis, seen by him as the unconscious, the drive, transference, and repetition
Needless to say, the idea of a return to Freud
I would like briefly to consider two of Lacan’s major
conceptual innovations, each of which contains a
triad of concepts: the symbolic, the imaginary and
the real; need, demand and desire.
The distinction between need and desire is a fairly
straightforward one, in which need denotes the organic
drive towards organic satisfaction, and desire the
ideational representatives of instincts, which
include the whole gamut of experiences, wishes and so
on. These ideational representatives are constructed
by the play of metaphor and metonymy. Desire might
therefore be seen as the active force in the psychic
apparatus, as that which sets it in motion, a motion
related to a set of drives which are flexible and
postponeab1e, orientated in accordance with pleasure
and unp1easure, and which are limited by demand.
For Lacan, the infinity of desires cannot be
realised because of the existence of cultural prescriptions and of a failure in being. Instead, we
have the limited and finite set of demands, in which
demand becomes a metonymica1 displacement of desire,
an articulation occurring within language. Demand
operates as a language of desire, a language in which
the subject is divided, no longer aware of what it
really desires(d). The psychoanalyst must ‘read’
desires below and beyond the metaphorical and metonymical interplay of demands.
The symbolic is formed of the set of conventional
symbols of social systems which is assimilated, as in
L~vi-Strauss, to a linguistic model.
game is the example, par excellence, of the operation
of the symbolic, for in this game, sounds come to
replace unattainable objects of desire, in this case,
the mother. This gives a general role to language of
providing a compromise between ‘reality’ and absolute
desires. The cure (see below) involves an asymptotic
approach between the two.
The imaginary is centred upon an identification
between consciousness and the subject, and, as such,
relates to secondary process thinking and to the ego.
If the symbolic involves the search for difference
and disjunction, the imaginary is centred upon
identity, order and resemblance. This identity is
one which is partial and adaptationist: ‘ … the
imaginary relation [is] that between the ego and its
images’ . Therefore, wherever there is a false
identification, there we are in the realm of the
imaginary. The imaginary may be seen as closely
linked to the development of science, as the ego is
linked to that ,-.evelopment for Freud.
B~r sums up the role of the imaginary in the
The extent of the Lacanian term ‘imaginary’
is thus so large that it covers all identificational content, all concrete pictorial
thoughts, conscious and unconscious. The
capacity of the human mind to think in terms
of principles of identity and similarity is
especially to be located within the imaginary
The real is more refractory, seeming to relate to
that which is lacking in the symbolic order, that is,
to that which is extrinsic to signification. Its
role for Lacan is a dynamic one, in that it reveals
that the symbolic and the imaginary are limited.
4 The practice of psychoanalysis and the cure
Lacan’s is an anti-adaptationist psychoanalysis
opposed to ego psychology. For ego psychologists,
the ego is the site of the real person and his dealings with the world, and, as such, unconscious
factors interfere and get in the way. For Lacan, on
the other hand, the ego is the site of the self-forothers, which is an alienated and an impoverished
This’ all gives Lacan a specific view of treatment
and of cure. Centrally, the only medium for psychoanalysis is speech, for it is ‘speech [which] confers
a meaning on the function of the individual … ‘ .
Psychoanalysis seeks to rediscover history, for ‘what
we teach the subject to recognise as his unconscious
is his history’ . As to this unconscious, it ‘is
that chapter of my history that is marked by a blank
or occupied by a fal sehood: it is the censored chapter.
But the truth can be rediscovered; usually it has been
written down elsewhere …. ‘ . The elsewhere
refers to dreams, myths, memories and suchlike.
The symptom is linguistic in structure for ‘the
symptom resolves itself entirely in an analysis of
language, because the symptom is itself structured
like a language, because it is from language that
speech must be delivered’ . Language has a very
specific function for ‘language is not to inform but
to evoke’ , and analysis has a definite goal:
Analysis can have for its goal only the
advent of a true speech and the realisation
by the subject of his history and his relation to the future.
At the start of analysis there is what might be
termed an empty word, in which the unconscious constantly irrupts without the patient being able to
understand or to talk about these irruptions. At the
end of analysis there will be a full word in which
the analysand can incorporate unconscious discourse
into conscious discourse. Conscious discourse distorts, whilst unconscious discourse reveals a ‘true’
self, ‘true’ desires; psychoanalysis involves a
process of release .
A number of features are essential for Lacanian
analysis: firstly, that analysis is interminable;
secondly, that conscious and unconscious discourses
never coincide, but merely approach each other;
thirdly, that the role of the analyst is a radically
non-interventionist one. The interminability of
analysis follows from the second feature, and itself
involves a number of concerns: that conscious discourse is essential for survival at the social level;
that without such discourse (that is, without primal
repression), there would be no subject; finally, that
there is a basic ‘lack’ or ‘failure’ in being, which
is only completed by death. All that seems possible
according to Lacan is a certain accord between the
conscious and the unconscious, described by Bar thus:
Therapy, as practised by ego psychologists,
is thus for Lacan a process in which one
patient (the analyst) cures the other
patient (the subject) by imposing on him
his own symptoms …. For Lacan, the patient
has to learn to ‘introject’ the Other. The
effect of the progressing cure is that the
patient learns to express, instead of
repressing, those truths, sometimes grandiose,
sometimes horrifying, which relate to his
The neutrality of the analyst has a strange root and
seems to follow from Lacan’s idea that the analyst is
as much controlled by his unconscious as is the
patient; the analyst is no more autonomous than the
analysand and is, perhaps, simply more aware of how
the unconscious works. It appears, in fact, that the
analyst has three roles : as the representative
of the Other, of unconscious discourse – in essence,
the representative of the machinations of the unconscious, of metaphor and metonymy; as a representative of society and its rules; and as representative
of all the listeners of the patient’s past life. It
is in the latter role that transference is so
important, for it is through transference that
… the analysand is progressively dispossessed of all the forms of his ego in
which he has constructed himself ….
Frustration of demand is the only means
at the analyst’s disposal to provoke the
subject’s regression from one signifier of
his demand to another, and to reach, through
this regression, the first unconscious signifier of the desire.
Criticism and Evaluation
The above is an attempt to outline the unoutlineable;
to describe as succinctly as I can manage, a body of
work that is unparalleled in its confusion and disorder; to bring order to Lacan’s unconscious discourse. Perhaps the difficulty is that any body of
criticism of Lacan can be said to be based upon misinterpretation, even upon repression. Are there
symptomatic and innocent readings? Is any version of
Lacan as good as any other? Can there be incorrect
However difficult the task, criticism will be
attempted, and that by someone who is not an analyst,
not even a philosopher, and will focus on a number of
areas: (i) Lacan’s style; (ii) the problem of
empirical evidence; (iii) the problem of the linguistic model and the stress of symbolisation; (iv) the
nature of Lacan’s analytic practice and his views on
the training of analysts; (v) the relationship between
Freud’s work and those of Lacan, especially Lacan’s
notion of a break in Freud.
The Lacanian style
Lacan’s works are, in my oplnl0n, without equal for
their incomprehensibility; they are very, very
difficult to understand, and extremely recalcitrant
when it comes to explaining what they mean. It is
hard to render them into language which is not Lacan’s
own and, at the same time, to be sure that you have
remained true to the originals. Obscurantism is the
order of the day, and one wonders why. Lacan might,
if he were before a court of stylistic justice, offer
a number of defences of his style:
(i) That it is a reflection of the workings of the
unconscious. If this were so then Lacan is offering
us psychoanalytic surrealism, when surely a picture
of the unconscious at work is not enough. What is
required is interpretation – indeed some mechanisms
and manuals of interpretation for guidance. What we
are given is the infinitely varied play of metaphor
and metonymy, with never a contact with some hard,
concrete, empirical fact .
(ii) That clarity may let in ideology. There is a
notion hinted at in the recent ‘On Ideology’ from the
Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies that unclarity is close to non-ideOlogy. It goes like this:
… Kristeva, Barthes, and, one might argue,
Lacan, are concerned to celebrate the impossibility of escape from the prison-house of
language. Their writings are conceived as
strategies for the constant restating of that
impossibility – the least ideological act
that discourse can be made to perform being
the realization of its own arbitrariness.
Without entering into the debate on the concept of
ideology, it seems equally possible that, short of
being able to use language completely randomly, so
that the ideological and the non-ideological could
occur with equal chance, confusion can be ideological,
can let ideology in by the back door. The very unclarity of Lacan’s work may serve to take the unwary
by surprise, may dupe those seeking the latest in
(iii) Perhaps psychoanalysis is closer to poetry than
it is to science. In fact, Lacan rarely claims quite
this – even though it is a fine and respectable getout clause – preferring to argue that his method is
scientific in that it is consistent. This mayor may
not be a sufficient condition for science – Liverpool
Football Club are consistent but we would hardly want
to claim that their methods were of the nature of
science – but it is frightfully difficult to assess
whether or not Lacan is being consistent. He rarely
uses empirical data, he does not, as Freud did, give
us detailed case studies; all we have are some discussions of Poe’s poetry and, beyond that, all is
Lacan and data
The reliance in Lacan upon assertion may have an
important polemical role – he was, without doubt,
struggling against real deviations from the Freudian
corpus. The Lacanian position on data appears, however, to be other than this, favouring a view that
everything is data, that the play of metaphor and
metonymy is infinitely varied, presenting us with a
forest of symbols from which nothing is excluded.
, Everything is grist to the mill of the unconscious.
That this is not Freud is quite clear – for Freud
there are aspects of behaviour which are not determined by the rule of the unconscious. That we are
never given an insight in Lacan’s analytic practice
is at least inconvenient – whereas Freud’s case
studies offer us some insight into method, concept
and theory, Lacan never gives us such an entry. The
analyst, although formally equal to the analysand, is
so superior that his methods are secret.
Language, ltnguistics and the symbolic in Lacan
Clearly, Lacan’s work is a linguistic reading of
Freud, especially drawn from ‘The Interpretation of
Dreams’, in which condensation and displacement have
become metaphor and metonymy. Equally clearly, the
linguistic paradigm is with us. Especially in France
it has come to dominate anthropology, has made Freud
acceptable, and has even begun to invade the treatment
of Marx, for example in the work of Goux and
Baudrillard . The latter is particularly fascinating, showing as it does the stress upon the role of
the symbol so beloved of semiologists.
For Goux, the commodity form is one inodoe of symbolisation (dominant, of course, in the last instance),
of which writing and sexuality are the other two. In
particular, he links Marx’s discussion of the development of the money form to Freud’s stages of sexual
development – barter corresponds to the anal stage,
the money form to the genital stage. Goux’s whole
approach rests on the assumption that ‘the opposition
between signifier and signified is nothing other
than … [the] split between use value and exchange
value’ , although it is made clear that the
‘nothing other’ is a matter of homology and isomorphism. Goux goes on to state:
That Marx discovers historically and logically four phases in the genesis of the money
form and that Freud is led to distinguish four
in the development of sexual organisation is no accident …. It is a similar
genetic process, it is the same principle of
discontinuous and progressive structuration
that commands the ascension to normative
sovereignty of gOld, the father and the
phallus. The phallus is the general equivalent of objects, the father is the general
equivalent of subjects, in the same way that
gold is the general equivalent of products.
The elements constituting these wholes are
different, but the syntax by which one of
these elements … accedes to power and rules
the evaluation of the whole in which it is
excluded is identical.
lr.hat it boils down to is that ‘Goux’s whole system
… rests on doing to Marx what Lacan did to Freud’
. Essentially, then, semiology rules – if production is the determining factor for Marx, then for
Lacan and Goux the determining factor is symbolism.
All there is to do is to explore, in a variety of
societies, the processes of symbolisation, and we
will likely find that all are isomorphic – plus §a
change, plus c’est la m~me chose! So we have a
heavy dose of structuralism in which history·and
practice vanish, are illusions. For Lacan, the true
self is the unconscious operating by and through
language, irrupting into all our lives in ways which
we may never control. For Baudrillard, we have the
claim that the priority given in Marx to labour and
to praxis is obsolete, for priority (now?) belongs
to symbolic exchange. Exploitation is not something
seen as specific to the commodity form, but to the
sign and to the ways in which we symbolise and
Two aspects of Lacan’s dealings with the symbolic
and with language I see as especially problematical
(a) Fort/da games and phonemes
For Lacan, the fort/da game is the learning ground
for the phonetic make-up of language, of which the
basic unit is the phoneme or minimal sound unit.
This might be a convincing idea if it were not for the
fact that in linguistics there seems to be little
agreement as to what phonemes are or what their
function is. Indeed, there seem to be distinct and
0ppQsed schools nowhere hinted at in Lacan’s work
. One is reminded of Mounin’s criticism 
that Lacan, and others who apply linguistic terms in
their analyses, more or less always do so without
consideration for the original uses of those terms.
Mounin is emphatic that Lacan’s use of the Saussurian
algorithm 2- which indicates the primacy of the
signifier,S and is to be the basis of a Copernican
revolution in psychology, is simply wrong. What is
being said is that Lacan always misinterprets de
Saussure in his discussion of the signifier, the
signified and the relationships between them. The
linguistic analogy is, perhaps, an interesting one,
but technically the analogy does a disservice to the
(b) The rule of the symbolic
The major departure in Lacan from the Freudian corpus
is that Lacan always denies the significance of materi~l factors and the somatic.
That the real father of
the Freudian oedipus drama becomes, in Lacan, the
Name-of-the-father, a mere linguistic symbol, is
indicative of this change. Similarly, the fear of
castration discussed by Freud – a real fearcabout the
real ‘depenising’ of the child – becomes again a
matter’of symbol, a matter of being deprived of
No-one can doubt that Freud was concerned with
interpretation, with symbols, with their meaning and
how that meaning was unavailable to the patient.
However, it was never the case for Freud that all
aspects of the person and his social relationships
were of the nature of symbols. One can no more
successfully reduce Freud to hermeneutics than you
can Marx. When Lacan accuses ego psychologists of
ignoring much that is essential in Freud, he might do
well to realise what he has ignored – the natural and
physical aspects of man – his drives and instincts the constraints of material existence. All these
have been either ignored or reduced to being symbols,
symbols which endlessly intertwine with one another,
never to reach the real, hard, concrete aspects of
Lacan’s derealisation of Freud is, therefore: on a
par with Baudrillard’s derealisation of Marx – in
both the linguistic bag of tricks is opened and we
find that exploitation has nothing to do with real
relationships between social classes but with the fact
that man is a symbol-using animal, that fathers are
not real, concrete entities but names, symbols,
aspects of langauge. A whiff, I feel, of idealism,
an idealism equally identifiable in Althusser .
So Freud and Marx are united, and all we have to
jettison is a few inconvenient trifles – history,
production, praxis, the drive, sexuality in its
physical form ….. .
Psychoanalytic practice and the cure
Freud provides an aetiology and a therapy. Lacan, in
ignoring the physical and the somatic, has rid Freudianism of the aetiological component, and has left
therapy as a profound mystery – remember, there are
no case studies. Turkle  draws attention to five
awkward aspects, as she sees them, of Lacanian
analysis and cure: the absence of a training analysis
for the therapist; the extreme brevity of training
itself; the brevity of the analytic session; the failure to persist with patients who are silent; problems
associated with the termination of analysis, which
leave many patients dependent upon the analyst.
I would like to give some attention to the issue
of training analysis. It is quite clear in much of
Freud’s work  that analysts must be trained, for
there are definite and specific methods and concepts
within psychoanalysis. It is equally clear that
medical training is, for Freud, neither sufficient
nor adequate for those wishing to become analysts.
The analyst does not need to know the bone structure
of the arm in order to study hysterical paralysis,
and will need to know much that is not medical – some
history, some anthropology …. So there must be a
training and that training is specific to psychoanalysis.
Whilst admitting that Freud’s position was, in
part, a result of the newness of psychoanalysis and
the need to have it accepted, Lacan’s position seems
to both misunderstand Freud and to depart too far
from his position. A number of confusions are identifiable: firstly, Lacan uses his rejection of a
medical training for analysts as a rejection of all
training; secondly, he argues for self-authorisation
of the analyst, which provides no guarantee that a
particular analyst knows his business; thirdly, his
hotly-disputed introduction of ‘the pass’ 
provided for a type of legitimation, but one which
does not effect the analyst’s right to practice.
Lacan’s position is that all rules and concepts of
psychoanalysis are open to criticism and reformulation and that psychoanalytic institutions make this
impossible. The analyst floats freely, nods occasionally toward the master, and offers his services
Breaks in the Freudian corpus
Epistemological breaks are hardly unknown in contemporary academic discourse and it will probably come as
no surprise to find that Lacan argues that Freud had
one – or more correctly two. Freud is seen to have
three phases: an early phase of being ‘scientific’,
even biological ; a middle phase that is the true
Freud ; and a late phase, in which he became an
adaptationist . Lacan worships the middle phase,
where linguistic readings are so easily arrived at,
and exorcises the first and last as heresies,
heresies which others have been too eager to follow.
If these breaks mean anything they mean different
views of man. In the early phase, Freud’s work is
claimed to be dominated by a mechanistic, even biological, viewpoint. In the ‘real’ phase, the unconscious is seen as the site of the true person, and
the analyst seeks to reveal this to the analysand
through the intermediary of language. In the final
phase Freud goes off the rails again in seeing man in
terms of adaptation and adjustment.
Two questions may be asked: firstly, are such
phases identifiable in Freud’s work? Secondly, are
the so-called phases irreconcilable? To neither of
these will I provide a full and complete answer,
merely a sketch. If there are phases, then they overlap. Freud’s concern with biology does not end in
1900 with the publication of The Interpretation of
Dreams, for Instincts and their Vicissitudes was published in 1915; his concern with language and interpretation does not evaporate with the works on dreams,
jokes and everyday psychopathology, published between
1900 and 1905, for it continues in the later sections
of the 1915 paper on the unconscious .
Now this may seem trivial, evidence that Freud was
inconsistent, that ideas we do not like are not onceand-for-all abandoned by Freud himself. However,
there are two alternative hypotheses:
(i) that although Freud did abandon his early
search for a neurophysiological basis for psychology
, the rest of his work is consistent in that it
moves from the study of what is repressed, for
example, in dreams, to the agencies of repression,
such as the super-ego, culture and suchlike. It
seems clear that the latter is not necessarily to be
seen from an adaptationist viewpoint.
(ii) that, as Sulloway argues, Freud was always a
biological reductionist, and that the suppression of
this perspective has more to do with the ideology of
the movement than with anything else:
After about 1895 … [Freud] systematically
adopted a second, and evolutionary, form of
biological reductionism in order to secure
the solid organic underpinnings that neurophysiology was not then ready to supply.
Freud’s later theories of infantile sexuality,
psychosexual development, the instincts,
pathological fixations, repression, the
neuroses, and man in relation to culture in short, the whole of the dynamic-genetic
core of psychoanalytic theory – were all
suffused with this evolutionary conception
of life …. The myth of … Freud as pure
psychologist [is] at the heart of the epist-
The 17th-century Spanish poet Luis de Gongora y Argote developed a style
marked by del iberate obscurity.
In particular, see Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, On Ideology,
Hutchinson, 1979, p.225. It is clear when we note the clear and limpid
prose of Descartes, Rousseau or Nietzsche, that stylistic unclarity is not
a necessary part of any attempt to develop new ideas and to break out of
old modes of discourse. Linguistic hermeticism is no greater guarantee of
truth than is clarity; the former may act to exclude from the sect, the
latter at least allows evaluation.
Thompson, E.P., The Poverty of Theory, Merlin Press, 1978.
Lemaire, A., Laaan, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977.
Bar, E., ‘Understanding Lacan’, in Goldberger, L., Psyahoanalysis and
Contemporary Saienae, International Uni versi ties Press, New York, 1974.
Wollheim, R., ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Lacan’, New York Review of Books, 25.1.79.
Freud, S., Beyond the Pleasure Pr>inaiple, Standard Edition, Vol.18, Hogarth
Press, 1955, pp.7-64.
Lacan, J., Ear>its. A Seleation, Tavistock Publications, 1977, p.65.
In fact, in both Freud and Lacan, there are more than these two processes
at work. It does seem in Lacan’ s case that all are reducible to metaphor
and metonymy. The metaphor/metonymy distinction is taken from Jakobson and
Halle, Fundamentals of Language, Hague, Mouton, 1956, p.8l. However, they
see condensation as an example of synecdoche, and displacement as one of
metonymy. They argue that Freud, in fact, uses condensation to cover
instances of both metaphor and synecdoche. Further confusion is added when
we note that in Earits (French edition, 1966, p.268), Lacan classifies
metaphor as displacement rather than the ‘usual’ condensation.
Lemaire, A., op.ait., p.121.
Lacan, J., op.ait., pp.563-64.
There is a temporal problem here, especially if primal repression occurs
significantly before language usage.
Lacan, J., op.ait., p.58. Involved here is a distinction between langue
and parole, a distinction so beloved by structuralists. Unconscious discourse is cast as langue; all other discourse as parole.
The ‘by’ is, in a sense, misleading for the analysand cures himself.
Lacanian language is a slippery customer.
Lacan, J., op.ait., p.49.
Lacan, J., op.ait., p.60. One wonders if the history is ‘his’ in any
creative sense, or if the subject is not rather some victim of a historical
machine which operates him.
Freud, S., Beyond the Pleasure Pr>inaiple, op.ait., pp .14-17.
Lemaire, A., op.ait., p.53.
Lacan, J., op.ait., pp.1-7.
Lemaire, A., op.ait., p.l77.
Lemaire, A., op.ait., p.l77.
Bowie, M., ‘Jacques Lacan’, in Sturrock, L., StruatUr’aZism and Sinae,
Oxford Uni versi ty Press (Opus Books), 1979.
emological politics that have pervaded the
entire psychoanalytic revolution.
I would like to make four observations by way of a
(1) Even if we do not understand Lacan (this paper
may be terribly wrong), it is clear that his strongly
anti-adaptationist and anti-biological views are
suitable for any attempt to unite Freud and Harx.
That such a unification has, in many cases, seen the
abolition of class and of praxis, is warning enough.
(2) that, as Collier argues:
[Lacan’s] is not a new position; there have
always been those who wanted to found a
romantic irrationalism on psychoanalysis,
treating the unconscious as the authentic
self and source of deeper wisdom.
(3) That Lacan’s attempt to provide a symmetry
between analyst and analysand, that he must refuse to
be ‘the subject who is presumed to know’  is
doubly flawed, for (a) what if the patient wants
knowledge, and (b) isn’t there an asymmetry in the
monetary tie between analyst and analysand?
(4) That there is a tendency in Lacan, and many
others , to take a particular position concerning
language. Lacan’s view is clear: language does not
provide an analogy for the study of the unconscious;
rather, it is the only way in which the unconscious
can exist, can be known. So ‘there is no structure
except of, or by means of, language’ . Man is
not, therefore. one who structures, but one who is
structured; he is a result, a product of language.
The above, as an introduction, may be flawed, in
that there appear to be many Lacans. In the absence
of the real Mr Lacan appearing, I offer this
homologue. The role of the analyst in frustrating
the analysand is a crucial one for Freud·. Perhaps
if I had thrown up my hands in horror and burnt the
works of Lacan out of frustration, then Lacan himself
would have been able to say ‘at last, you understand’.
Lacan, J., op.ait., p.67.
From Earits, quoted in Lemaire, A., op.ait., p.83. My emphasis.
Lemaire, A., op.ait., p.87.
Lacan, J., The FoUr’ Fundamental Conaepts of Psychoanalysis, Hogarth, 1977.
Ricoeur, P., Freud and Philosophy, Yale University Press, 1970.
Su11oway, F.J., Freud – Biologist of the Mind, Burnett Books/Deutsch, 1979.
Robinson, P., The Sexual RadiaaZs, Paladin, 1969.
‘Uses’ is in inverted commas as its normal meaning implies things such as
action, choice, perhaps practice. In Lacan, however, the discourse speaks
through the person, much as for Levi-Strauss myths ‘think themselves
through’ people. See Levi-Strauss, C., The Raw and the Cooked, Cape.
Lacan, J., in SaiZiaet, 1970, vols 2/3.
Lacan, J., Earits, p .166.
Lacan, J. The FoUr’ FundamentaZ Conaepts of PsyahoanaZysis, op.ait., p.286.
Bar, E., op.ait., p.517.
Lacan, J., Earits, p.49.
Lacan, J., op.ait., p.60
Lacan, J., op.ait., p.50.
Lacan, J., op.ait., p.59.
Lacan, J., op.ait., p.86.
Lac an , J., op.ait., p.88
This notion of release provides a strong link between the work of Lacan and
that of Heidegger.
Bar, E., op.ait., p.530.
Lemaire, A., op.ait., pp.2l7-l9.
Lemaire, A., op.ait., p.218.
I can see that I can actually write the words ’empirical’ and ‘fact’
without the play of symbols crashing about my ears.
Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, On Ideology, Hutchinson, 1979,
d’ Arnico, R., ‘Desire and the Commodity Form’, TeZos 35, 1978, pp. 88-122.
Quoted in d’Arnico, R., op.ait., p.99.
Quoted in d’Arnico, R., op.ait., pp.97-98.
d’Amico, R., op.ait., p.99.
There is an empirical difficulty associated with the link between language
acquisition and the Oedipus complex. For Lacan, the acquisition of language
is determined by the Oedipal drama, and yet language is, in fact, acquired
several years before this drama is generally agreed to arise.
Lyons cites four distinct uses of the term phoneme in linguistics (Lyons,
J., New Horizons in Linguistias, Penguin, 1970, pp. 76-94):
(i) The psychological view, that phonemes are ideal sound units at which
speakers aim. They often fall into error because many of the sounds
are similar and each is difficult to reproduce.
(ii) The view that phonemes are families of sounds, with family
(iii) The views of such as Jakobson and Trubetskoy that phonemes are
minimal sound units by which meanings are differentiated.
(iv) The view that phonemes are independent of phonetic properties of
Crucially, linguists do not agree.
Mounin, G., Clefs pOUY’ la linguistique, Seghers, Paris, 1971, p.ll.
See above, ‘Process Three – The Oedipus Complex, the Father and Social
Identified by, amongst others, E.P. Thompson.
Turkle, S., Psychoanalytic Politics, Burnett Books, New York, 1979.
For example, Freud, S., ‘The Question of Lay Analysis’, StandaY’d Edition,
Turkle, S., op.cit., pp.125-37.
For example, Freud, S., PY’e-Psychoanalytic Publications, Standard Edition,
For example, Freud, S., The InteY’pY’etation of Dr>eams, Standard Edition,
For example, Freud, S., The Ego and the Id, Standard Edition, Vol.19.
The relevant dates and works are as follows (all by Freud): The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Standard Edition, Vols. 4-5; Instincts and their
Vicissitudes (1915), StandaY’d Edition, Vol.14; The Unconscious (1915),
StandaY’d Edition, VOl.14; Some Additional Notes on DY’eam InterpY’etation as
a Whole (1925), Standard Edition, VOl.19; The Ego and the Id (1923),
Standard Edition, Vol.19. A unity between so-called phases 2 and 3 is
provided by NeuY’osis and Psychosis, Standard Edition, Vol.19, where the
neuroses are classified in terms of the relationship between id, ego, superego and the external world.
As contained in Freud, S., The PY’oject foY’ a Scientific Psychology, in
Bonaparte, tl. (ed.), The Origins of PsychoanaZysis, 1954, Imago.
Sulloway, F., op.cit., pp.4l9 and 488. To reject the biology is, it is
clear, to abandon a great deal of Freud’s ‘non-adaptationist’ work.
Collier, A., ‘Lacan, Psychoanalysis and the Left’, in InternationaZ
Socialism, 1980, 2:7, pp.5l-71.
Lacan, quoted in Turkle, S., op.cit., p.1l9.
Jameson, F., The PY’ison House of Language, Princeton University Press, 1972.
Bowie, H., op.cit., p.l3l.
Objec:tific:ation and Alienation
in Marx and Hegel
Hegel sees … se1f-objectification in the
form of self-alienation and self-estrangement as … the final expression of human
life which … has attained its own
The object of this paper is to reassess the relationship between Marx and Hege1 as it is exemplified in
Marx’s 1844 manuscripts which include a brilliant
series of jottings on Hegel’s Phenomenology of
Spirit. In particular I want to investigate the
claim, first made by Luk~cs, that Marx’s criticism of
Hege1 amounts to the charge that Hege1 equates alienation with objectification . I endorse this
point of view but I explain that the matter is by no
means as simple as it might appear. A subsidiary
section of this paper will take up another common
theme in the literature, namely the claim that the
central site of the discussion of objectification,
or of alienation, or of both, is Hege1’s discussion
of ‘Lordship and Bondage’, and that this discussion
profoundly influenced Marx in his theory of alienation . This latter claim I will argue is entirely
groundless; the famous Master-Slave dialectic is of
no importance to Marx, either in his praise of Hegel
(which is considerable) or his criticism (which is
Before we can assess the significance of these
claims it is necessary to remind ourselves of how the
various categories are introduced in the texts in
question. I will first summarize the central section
of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts – that on ‘estranged
labour’. After a recapitulation (very schematic) of
Hege1’s Phenomenology, I will then turn to the last
section of the Manuscripts, in which Marx makes his
assessment of Hege1’s dialectic on the basis of it,
and try to explain what I take to be Marx’s meaning.
Along the way it will be necessary to give the
results of certain philological investigations I was
forced to take up.
Marx’s Theory of Alienation
‘Objectification’ (Vergegenst~ndlichung) is an
important category for Marx because in and through
its objectification in the world humanity comes to be
what it essentially is. This process is, of course,
for Marx, primarily a question of labour, of material
production, and its result is a product. ‘The product of labour’ says Marx, ‘is the objectification
of labour.’  Through this process the labourer
realizes his potential as a producer; but it is
important to stress here (because we will have to
come back to it when we make a comuarison with
Hege1) that this is possible because there exists
external material with which to work. Marx says:
‘the worker can create nothing without nature, with-