Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lacan's Imaginary

It almost seems like misunderstanding Lacan is  prerequisite of being a Lacanian.

I'm not a big fan of Lacan. There's very little I've read in his work or, heard from others, that is original. He's either taken over a concept from someone else and renamed it in his jargon or his formulations are so abstract that everything or nothing can fit into them. However, he has kept alive in the hearts of many mediocre people the struggle for knowledge beyond one's capabilities in an age when many psychoanalysts have given up on Freud's grand models.

Lacanians seem to refer to the imaginary as if it is the dimension of ego identity that belongs to different roles or group identities that an individual may have. However, the imaginary exists with animals and, the interactions it represents, even once the word-presentations emerge at the phallic stage, are always better understood as inter-subjective. Lacan writes:

“The relations between beings in the real, including all of you animated beings out there, might be produced in terms of inversely reciprocal relations. This is what psychology, and a whole area of sociology, is trying to do, and may succeed in doing so far as the mere animal kingdom is concerned, for the capture of the imaginary is enough to motivate all sorts of behaviour in the living being. Psychoanalysis reminds us that human psychology belongs to another dimension” (seminar xi, p. 206-7). 

A good clinical reference for this is what Reich and early analysts referred to as an oral block on aggression. It means that the pre-verbal child in its imaginary relations with the parent might experience traumatic fear in its expression of aggression and from then on it will have a hard time experiencing aggression. This produces someone who can't say no to others and who is a push-over. "Lacanians" will want to look for identifications with religious narratives, things the mother said, etc. that are only rationalizations while the true problem is in the imaginary. Ironically, Lacanians are often "ego psychologists" in practice even though Lacan rails against them in his texts constantly. 

The imaginary still exists after word-presentations. In the father complex there is an imaginary relation to "mainstream" or "adult"society in general through the father. The "genital  hysteric" experiences traumatic aggression towards the father that leads to promiscuity in the sexual version, and in the social version she takes out her aggression towards those who represent the "mainstream". A person who identifies with "the rebel" who was his "mother's desire" (phallic-narcissistic) or has some other motivational or drive structure will present much differently than the genital hysteric. However, Lacanians aren't interested in the phenomenological differences between people, they want a universal formula for all individuals or to say everyone is unique.      

Reich's body-psychotherapy should be understood as using the imaginary to access the Real trauma and defensive positions by working with bodily sensations and allowing activated impulses to be discharged. However, often times the armour removed comes back and the energy increase can't be tolerated. This, I believe, comes from the lack of symbolic work to deal with the superego and bad conscience of most neurotics. I think the classical techniques of working with dreams and what Lacan kept alive in the signifying chain is very important for this and hopefully the time will soon arrive when these two sides can finally unite.  


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