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Aggressivity is one of the central issues that Lacan deals with in his papers in the period 1936 to the early 1950s.
Lacan draws a distinction between aggressivity and aggression: aggression refers only to violent acts whereas aggressivity is a fundamental relation which underlies not only such acts but many other phenomena also. Lacan argues that aggressivity is just as present in apparently loving acts as in violent ones; it "underlies the activity of the philanthropist, the idealist, the pedagogue, and even the reformer. Lacan is simply restating Freud's concept of ambivalence -- the interdependence of love and hate, which Lacan regards as one of the fundamental discoveries of psychoanalysis.
Lacan situates aggressivity in the dual relation between the ego and the counterpart. In the mirror stage, the infant sees its reflection in the mirror as a wholeness, in contrast with the uncoordination in the real body: this contrast is experienced as an aggressive tension between the specular image and the real body, since the wholeness of the image seems to threaten the body with disintegration and fragmentation.
The consequent identification with the specular image thus implies an ambivalent relation with the counterpart, involving both eroticism and aggression. This "erotic aggression" continues as a fundamental ambivalence underlying all future forms of identification, and is an essential characteristic of narcissism. Narcissism can thus easily veer from extreme self-love to the opposite extreme of "narcissistic suicidal aggression" (agression suicidaire narcissique).
By linking aggressivity to the imaginary order of eros, Lacan seems to diverge significantly from Freud, since Freud sees aggressivity as an outward manifestation of the death drive (which is, in Lacanian terms, situated not in the imaginary but in the symbolic order). Aggressivity is also related by Lacan to the Hegelian concept of the fight to the death, which is a stage in the dialectic of the master and the slave.
Lacan argues that it is important to bring the analysand's aggressivity into play early in the treatment by causing it to emerge as negative transference. This aggressivity directed towards the analyst then becomes "the initial knot of the analytic drama." This phase of the treatment is very important since if the aggressivity is handled correctly by the analyst, it will be accompanied by "a marked decrease in the patient's deepest resistances.
- Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book I. Freud's Papers on Technique, 1953-54. Trans. John Forrester. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. p. 177
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 7
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 187
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.14
- Lacan, Jacques. "Some Reflections on the Ego", Int. J. Psycho-Anal., vol. 34, 1953: p. 13