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Thing

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French: chose

Lacan's discussion of the "Thing" constitutes one of the central themes in the seminar of 1959-60 (L'éthique de la psychanalyse – "The Ethics of Psychoanalysis"), where he uses the French term la chose interchangeably with the German term das Ding. There are two main contexts in which this term operates.

Word-Presentations and Thing-Presentations

The first context is Freud's distinction between "word-presentations" (Wort-vorstellungen) and "thing-presentations" (Sachvorstellungen). The distinction is prominent in Freud's metapsychological writings, in which he argues that the two types of presentation are bound together in the preconscious-conscious system, whereas in the unconscious system only thing-presentations are found.[1]

This seemed to some of Lacan's contemporaries to offer an objection to Lacan's theories about the linguistic nature of the unconscious. Lacan counters such objections by pointing out that there are two words in German for "thing": das Ding and die Sache.[2] It is the latter term which Freud usually employs to refer to the thing-presentations in the unconscious, and Lacan argues that although on one level Sachvorstellungen and Wortvorstellungen are opposed, in the symbolic level "they go together".

Thus die Sache’’ is the representation of a thing in the symbolic order, as opposed to das Ding’’, which is the thing in its "dumb reality",[3] the thing in the real, which is "the beyond-of-the-signified."[4] The thing-presentations found in the unconscious are thus still linguistic phenomena, as opposed to das Ding which is entirely outside language, and outside the unconscious.

"The Thing is characterised by the fact that it is impossible for us to imagine it."[5]

Lacan's concept of the Thing as an unknowable x, beyond symbolisation, has clear affinities with the Kantian "thing-in-itself".

Jouissance

The second context is jouissance. As well as the object of language, das Ding is the object of desire. It is the lost object which must be continually refound, it is the prehistoric, unforgettable Other[6] - in other words, the forbidden object of incestuous desire, the mother.[7] The pleasure principle is the law which maintains the subject at a certain distance from the Thing,[8] making the subject circle round it without ever attaining it.[9]

The Thing is thus presented to the subject as his Sovereign Good, but if the subject transgresses the pleasure principle and attains this Good, it is experienced as suffering/evil,[10] because the subject "cannot stand the extreme good that das Ding may bring to him."[11] It is fortunate, then, that the Thing is usually inaccessible.[12]

Objet petit a

After the seminar of 1959-60, the term das Ding disappears almost entirely from Lacan's work. However, the ideas associated with it provide the essential features of the new developments in the concept of the objet petit a as Lacan develops it from 1963 onwards. For example the objet petit a is circled by the drive[13] and is seen as the cause of desire just as das Ding is seen as "the cause of the most fundamental human passion."[14] Also, the fact that the Thing is not the imaginary object but firmly in the register of the real, [15] and yet is "that which in the real suffers from the signifier,"[16] anticipates the transition in Lacan's thought towards locating objet petit a increasingly in the register of the real from 1963 on.

See Also


References

  1. Freud, Sigmund. "The Unconscious", 19l5e. SE XIV, 161
  2. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 62-3, 44-5
  3. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p.55
  4. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p.54
  5. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 125
  6. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p.53
  7. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 67
  8. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 58, 63
  9. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 95
  10. Lacan plays on the French term mal, which can mean both suffering and evil; Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 179
  11. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 73
  12. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 59
  13. 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. 168
  14. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 97
  15. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. p. 112
  16. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 125