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Time

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French: temps

Jacques Lacan

One of the most distinctive features of Lacanian psychoanalysis is Lacan's approach to questions of time.

Broadly speaking, Lacan's approach is characterized by two important innovations: the concept of logical time, and the stress on retroaction and anticipation.

Logical Time

In his paper entitled "Logical Time" (1945), Lacan undermines the pretensions of logic to timelessness and eternity by showing how certain logical calculations include an inescapable reference to a temporality. However, the kind of temporality involved is not specificable by reference to the clock, but is itself the product of certain logical articulations. This distinction between logical time and chronological time underpins Lacan's whole theory of temporality.

Tripartite Structure

The fact that logical time is not objective does not mean that it is simply a question of subjective feeling; on the contrary, as the adjective "logical" indicates, it is a precise dialectical structure which may be formulated rigorously in mathematical terms. In the 1945 paper, Lacan argues that logical time has a tripartite structure, the three moments of which are:

  1. the instant of seeing;
  2. the time for understanding;
  3. the moment of concluding.

By means of a sophism (the problem of the three prisoners) Lacan shows how these three moments are constructed not in terms of objective chronometric units but in terms of an intersubjective logic based on a tension between waiting and haste, between hesitation and urgency. Logical time is thus "the intersubjective time that structures human action."[1]

Treatment

Lacan's notion of logical time is not just an exercise in logic; it also has practical consequences for psychoanalytic treatment. The most famous of these consequences, historically speaking, has been Lacan's use of sessions of variable duration (French: séances scandées), which was regarded by the International Psycho-Analytical Association (IPA) as sufficient grounds for excluding him from membership. However, to focus exclusively on this particular practice is to miss various other interesting clinical dimensions of the theory of logical time, such as the way in which Lacan's concept of "the time for understanding" can throw light on the Freudian concept of working-through.

Saussurean Linguistics

Lacan's concept of logical time anticipates his incursions into Saussurean linguistics, which is based on the distinction between the diachronic (or temporal) and the synchronic (atemporal) aspects of language. Hence Lacan's increasing stress, beginning in the 1950s, on synchronic or timeless structures rather than on developmental "stages". Thus when Lacan uses the term "time", it is usually to be understood not as a fleeting diachronic moment but as a structure, a relatively stable synchronic state.

Similarly, when he speaks of "the three times of the Oedipus complex," the ordering is one of logical priority rather than of a chronological sequence. Change is not seen as a gradual or smooth move along a continuum, but as an abrupt shift from one discrete structure to another. Lacan's emphasis on synchronic or timeless structures can be seen as an attempt to explore Freud's statement about the non-existence of time in the unconscious. However, Lacan modifies this with his proposal, in 1964, that the unconscious be characterized in terms of a temporal movement of opening and closing.[2]

Retroaction and Anticipation

Other forms of psychoanalysis, such as ego-psychology are based on a linear concept of time (as can be seen, for example, in their stress on a linear sequence of developmental stages through which the child naturally passes; see development). Lacan, however, completely abandons such a linear notion of time, since in the psyche time can equally well act in reverse, by retroaction and anticipation.

Retroaction

Lacan's term après coup is the term used by French analysts to translate Freud's Nachträglichkeit ("deferred action"). These terms refer to the way that, in the psyche, present events affect past events a posteriori, since the past exists in the psyche only as a set of memories which are constantly being reworked and reinterpreted in the light of present experience. What concerns psychoanalysis is not the real past sequence of events in themselves, but the way that these events exist now in memory and the way that the patient reports them. Thus when Lacan argues that the aim of psychoanalytic treatment is 'the complete reconstitution of the subject's history,"[3] he makes it clear that what he means by the term "history" is not simply a real sequence of past events, but "the present synthesis of the past."[4]

"History is not the past. History is the past inso far as it is historicised in the present."[5]

Hence the pregenital stages are not to be seen as real events chronologically prior to the genital stage, but as forms of demand which are projected retroactively onto the past.[6] Lacan also shows how discourse is structured by retroaction; only when the last word of the sentence is uttered do the initial words acquire their full meaning (see punctuation).[7]

Anticipation

If retroaction refers to the way the present affects the past, anticipation refers to the way the future affects the present. Like retroaction, anticipation marks the structure of speech; the first words of a sentence are ordered in anticipation of the words to come.[8] In the mirror stage, the ego is constructed on the basis of the anticipation of an imagined future wholeness which never, in fact, arrives. The structure of anticipation is best illustrated linguistically by the future-perfect tense.[9] Anticipation also plays an important role in the tripartite structure of logical time; the moment of concluding "is arrived at in haste, in anticipation of future certainty."[10]

See Also

References

  1. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.75
  2. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p. 143, 204
  3. 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.12
  4. 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. 36
  5. 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. 12
  6. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 197
  7. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 303
  8. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 303
  9. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 306
  10. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 209