Monday, April 7, 2008

Jacques Lacan

French psychoanalytical theorist who' s influence continues today most notably advocated by Slavoj Zizek.
in turn, reinterprets Freud and in particular, the difficult concept of the unconscious. Lacan links language and the unconscious and suggests that the unconscious is structured like a language. This resonates with some of Freud's ideas as articulated in Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious and his earlier work on The Interpretation of Dreams.

Lacan is also known for his theory of the Mirror Stage. This occurs in infants who at that stage develop a capacity that is evidenced by their reaction of recognition when they see their own image in a mirror. What is this capacity? It is a conceptual act, the establishment of 'I' (the ego) and an essential foundation for social functioning and a precursor to language. (Why do we use language? To communicate with others!)

Lacan proposes that reality for humans is comprised of a trilogy of levels the Real, Imaginary and Symbolic orders.

I see these as registers of the mind ways of knowing.

Zizek provides a useful analogy - consider the game of chess: at one level, corresponding to the Symbolic, we have the rules of the game, at another level we have the representation of the pieces as, for example, a knight or a pawn, this is the Imaginary and at the third level we have the actual game itself, all aspects of it, including the thinking of the players , the physical surroundings etc..

Language works at the level of the Symbolic and it is always influenced by the big Other.

Language is not a passive exchange - when we communicate we operate within a frame of reference (a concept from Mezirow in turn from Habbermas). Lacan reifies this as the big Other - he gives it a form that recognises how we think. For example, a religious person may process thoughts as what God would like me to say or do, or perhaps a person has a strong ideological framework as with communism - this will shape all that is uttered.

What then of the Real and the Imaginary?

The Real is usually recognised by an absence rather in the same way that we respond to a disequilibrium. We don't perceive it directly but rather through our responses.

So here's an example of my own making that gets at what I think Lacan was attempting to point to. I met a colleague recently and I said "Isn't it terrible what's been happening in Limerick yet another gangland murder yesterday"

He responded "Shocking when will it ever stop".

This is just a small part of a typical verbal exchange that takes place between people every day. Look at the levels or registers, or as Lacan would say 'orders' of the discourse.

There is the Symbolic order this comprises the words exchanged and our shared cultural understanding of, for example, what we mean when we say 'gangland' and further our shared collection of connotations for Limerick.

I would describe the Symbolic order as a form of literacy.

The next level is the Imaginary order. When I say "Isn't it terrible I am referring to a specific recent murder the most recent in a spate. I have a way of imagining a murder it's certainly a very sanitized format.

Let me call it a visualization but note that the perception may not all be visual in nature. This visualization for me is tame, very tame for a murder. I leave out a huge amount of detail - so my imagined form is constructed by me in a way that I can use it and not get too upset by it. Notice, that the Imaginary order is not a complete picture, such a picture would be unworkable in everyday life.

Now consider the Real order. This is everything that is not part of the Symbolic or the Imaginary. I call it the inconceivable. What's our way of knowing this? We indirectly detect by imbalance or absence-as in when we use the phrase 'the breakdown of law and order'. There's lots left out - the fragility of life, the sociological crisis in areas of Limerick, injustices, capacity for evil.

This is as far as I will go for now with Lacan.

There is a link to a good web site on Lacan above.


Some notes Carl Jung and Motivation

Jung and others emphasise the unconscious.
The suggestion is that we need to question the contribution of the unconscious to motivation. Jung uses the terms psyche and psychic rather than mind and mental.
Jung sees the unconscious aspect of the psyche as different but complimentary to the conscious. Jung sees the psyche as a dynamic system, in constant flux and self-regulating . He calls the psychic energy libido acting out a form of opposition and compensation. Forward (progression) and backward (regression) movement of the libido -think of adaptation (to one's environment) and accommodation (change in mind). Some idea of flow between the conscious and the unconscious. And by the way regression (which often gets a bad press) is not a bad thing.
Jung also talks about symbols and signs. A sign as a substitute or representation of a real thing while a symbol is a wider representation.

The conscious aspect of the psyche may be compared with an island jutting out of the sea. The island could be seen as the ego the bit above the water. Now there's lots of stuff that we either forget, have repressed or suppressed; all of these occupy the personal unconscious. The island metaphor places the personal unconscious as just beneath the surface theoretically recoverable.

What lies deeper still is the collective unconscious.
The tendency to experience the world in a manner shaped by the collective past history of mankind is what Jung called archetypal and archetypes are a form of human blueprint for intuition.

A complex is a type of grouping of ideas around a basic nucleus.
There are dispositional and environmental contributors to complexes. Complexes can arise in the conscious and unconscious. Unconscious complexes can appear to act or drive independently of the ego.

So what is the drive through life -the propulsion?
Jung found the answer to this question gradually evolved itself during years of work with patients, and borrowed the word 'individuation' to describe it. There were, he found, a relatively large number of people who, while cured in the ordinary sense of the word, either persisted in continuing their analytical treatment, which he defined as 'the dialectical discussion between the conscious mind and the unconscious', people were seeking a goal, something like a quest for wholeness.

Conscious and unconscious do not make a whole when one of them is suppressed and injured by the other. If they must contend, let it at least be a fair fight with equal rights on both sides. Both are aspects of life. Consciousness should defend its reason and protect itself, and the chaotic life of the unconscious should be given the chance of having its way too -- as much of it as we can stand. This means open conflict and open collaboration at once. That, evidently, is the way human life should be. It is the old game of hammer and anvil: between them the patient iron is forged into an indestructible whole, an 'individual'. This, roughly, is what I mean by the individuation process. 15

15. 'Conscious, Unconscious, and Individuation' (C.W., 9, i), pars. 522-3

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Question of Psychoanalysis

I face a challenge every time I engage with psychoanalytical theories and theorists. I'm never really sure as to the substance and value of the approach. I remain detached and skeptical and tend to apply a higher degree of critical appraisal. On the other hand I sense that there are some very important ideas in this field and that part of the challenge is the complex and intimate nature of what's being studied.
In this series of blogs I propose to review psychoanalytical thinkers and their theories and to work through their ideas to see what stacks up in. To begin with, I intend to look closely at three of the founding theorists Freud, Jung and Lacan and to provide an overview of their main ideas and work.
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