Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Jacques Lacan (Part Deux)

...The second term in Lacan’s triumvirate is the Imaginary. The Imaginary is situated

between the Real and the Symbolic. The best way to define the Imaginary is to look at it in terms of another Lacanian idea: that of the mirror stage. According to Lacan, there comes a point in the infant’s life when he/she moves from the Imaginary into the Symbolic. This transition is facilitated by the infant’s gazing into a mirror and coming to the realization that he/she is an individual set apart from the world he/she has, up until this point, been inhabiting. Once the infant comes to this realization, he/she begins to see itself in relation to others. The first other he/she sees is the mother (or as Lacan puts it at one point the m/other). Once this happens, the child has moved from the Imaginary and into the Symbolic. To back track, in order to more clearly define the Imaginary, Lacan believes the stage before this recognition of the other is the Imaginary. In the Imaginary, the child is one with the world around it and able to purely experience the world sans mediation. There is no differentiation between the subjectivity of the child and the objects that surround him/her.

The final term to discuss is the Symbolic. As alluded to above, the Symbolic is the stage that comes after the Imaginary and it is the stage that, once entered by the child, acts as a prison for the rest of the child’s life (i.e. we are all stuck in the Symbolic and there is no escape [this is reminiscent of Wittgenstein and his ideas about people being stuck within language]). Concomitant with the mirror stage is the recognition of not only the m/other, but the recognition of the father/phallus/law giver. Once a person moves from the Imaginary into the Symbolic, he/she is from that point forward defined by the language others use to describe him/her. We are born into language, Lacan claims (for example, before a child is even born he/she is given a name and those in the community the child will be born into are already talking about the child). IN the Symbolic order, we are no longer able to determine who we are, rather, the way language functions around us defines us. As we are able to play with/create with language, so language is able to shape us. Within the Symbolic, we are always removed from the Imaginary and the Real. Everything we encounter is a symbol for something else, and we are forced to live out our lives continually seeking to define ourselves in terms of the “other.” This creates within people issues of “desire” and “lack.” In my understanding of Lacan, when we are in the Symbolic, we seek to return to the Imaginary that we were forced out of by the mirror stage and the law giving father, but, as the cliche goes, we can’t go home again. There is no return to the imaginary and this causes neurosis in many individuals in contemporary society.

Next time...Kristeva

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