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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jacques Lacan and Subjectivity

22 December, 2010

Notes by: Sneha Sharon

'I' might seem a mono-syllabic innocent usage but it has been subjected to a wide range of observations. This 'I' is seen as a realisation of oneself and modern as well as post modern set ups have wondered whether one's usage of 'I' is similar or different to somebody else's usage of 'I'. If so, how similar or how different is it? Does an individual's usage of 'I' also differ from situation to circumstances?

Platonian notion of Essence preceedes existence and the Aristotelian notion of existence preceeds essence to Descartes idea of 'I think therefore I'm' have been followed up by the Marxists who understood consciousness as being determined by social existence; Freud, wherein this notion of the 'I' is broken and Lacan who re-read Freud thus extending him today is a widely read name in the field of philosophy, psychoanalysis and contemporary feminist art.

In the cultural theories of understanding of the 'self', 'subject' is a major keyword such that many a times it has been used as though it were a substitute for the other. The 'self' is therefore subject to the manifold concerns we as humans face today be it social, cultural, economical or political.

Subjectivity is therefore something that connects us with the outside world- the 'self' is not a sole entity, it is always being played upon by circumstances governed from the world outside. Subjectivity then helps us understand why the 'I' and the 'other' are so linked. It is then to understand that the 'subject' is a construct.

Lacan's most influential statement has been- "the unconscious is structured like a language". This gave a feeling that the unconscious too then was a system just like language and thus was the communication/ language was the very thread of subjectivity. Lacan could be taken to have followed a certain Sassurean understanding too.

According to Lacan, there are three stages - The real, imaginary and the symbolic. The real for Lacan is not reality per se. This 'real' is but outside language and is thoroughly different from the symbolic. It is a 'need' stage, all your needs are fulfilled but you are not aware of the same. This is the stage where you do not other your mother, do not find yourself as being separate from her. It is therefore an organic/ whole stage. Between the 'real' and the 'imaginary' is a gap. The 'self' is 'real' but the 'subject' is 'imaginary' and thus displaced. The 'subject' stage is when you start realising yourself as a separate, individual entity. The imaginary dwells in the realm of of imagination and deceptions. The relationship between the ego and the image within the mirror stage are also places of radical isolations, a narcissitic relationship. This stage is that of wants.

The Symbolic order is a stage of desires, the big 'other'. You are then the subject as well as the perpetrator. Meaning to say that one becomes a desiring subject, always needing something but still not being able to achieve it. Desire then comes as a component to fill up the void between the real and the imaginary orders, that is the 'needs' and 'want' stages. For Freud, this lack was a sexual lack. This order is not in the lines of language but restraints. It is somewhere understood as being in the dimensions of the signifier. In this order, the unconscious is the discourse of the 'other'. It is also a realm of the culture unlike the Imaginary which was a realm of the nature.

Thus, it is to understand that in the questioning of the 'I', there is no particular 'I'. It is either the 'self' or the 'subject' or both used interchangeably.

Abraham, Renu. Subjectivity. Christ University. 22 Dec. 2010. Lecture. 

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