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Development

From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis
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French: développement
Ego-Psychology
Temporal Development

Psychoanalysis is presented by ego-psychology as a form of developmental psychology, with the emphasis placed on the temporal development of the child's sexuality.

Pregenital to Genital Stages

According to this interpretation, Freud shows how the child progresses through the various pregenital stages (the oral and anal stages) to maturity in the genital stage.

Jacques Lacan

Genetic Order

In his early work Lacan seems to accept this developmental reading of Freud, at least in the matter of a genetic order for the three "family complexes" and for ego defences.[1]

Criticism

In the early 1950s, Lacan becomes critical of development for various reasons.

  1. Firstly, it presupposes a natural order for sexual development and takes no account of the symbolic articulation of human sexuality, thus ignoring the fundamental differences between drives and instincts.
  2. Secondly, it is based on a linear concept of time which is completely at odds with the psychoanalytic theory of time.
  3. Finally, it assumes that a final synthesis of sexuality is both possible and normal, whereas for Lacan no such synthesis exists.

No Final Stage

Thus, while both ego-psychology and object-relations theory propose the concept of a final stage of psychosexual development, in which the subject attains a "mature" relation with the object, described as a genital relation, this is totally rejected by Lacan.

Split

Lacan argues that such a state of final wholeness and maturity is not possible because the subject is irremediably split, and the metonymy of desire is unstoppable.

Furthermore, Lacan points out that "the object which corresponds to an advanced stage of instinctual maturity is a rediscovered object."[2]

The so-called final stage of maturity is nothing more than the encounter with the object of the first satisfactions of the child.

"Mythology of Instinctual Maturation"

Lacan disputes the geneticist reading of Freud, describing it as a "mythology of instinctual maturation."[3]

He argues that the various "stages" analysed by Freud (oral, anal and genital) are not observable biological phenomena which develop naturally, such as the stages of sensoriomotor development, but "obviously more complex structures."[4]

Chronology

The pregenital stages are not chronologically ordered moments of a child's development, but essentially timeless structures which are projected retroactively onto the past.

"They are ordered in the retroaction of the Oedipus complex."[5]

Lacan thus dismisses all attempts to draw empirical evidence for the sequence of psychosexual stages by means of "the so-called direct observation of the child,"[6] and places the emphasis on the reconstruction of such stages in the analysis of adults.

"It is by starting with the experience of the adult that we must grapple, retrospectively, nachträglich, with the supposedly original experiences."[7]

In 1961, the pregenital stages are conceived by Lacan as forms of demand.

Language Acquisition
Chronological Sequence

The complex relationship between the chronological emergence of phenomena and the logical sequence of structures is also illustrated by reference to the question of language acquisition.

On the one hand, psycholinguistics has discovered a natural order of development, in which the infant progresses through a sequence of biologically predetermined stages (babbling, followed by phoneme acquisition, then isolated words, and then sentences of increasing complexity).

Lacan, however, is not interested in this chronological sequence, since it only deals with "the emergence, properly speaking, of a phenomenon."[8]

Symbolic Structure

What interests Lacan is not the phenomena (external appearance) of language but the way language positions the subject in a symbolic structure.

In respect of the latter, Lacan points out that "the child already has an initial appreciation of the symbolism of language" well before he can speak, "well before the exteriorised appearance of language."[9]

"All or Nothing"
"Universe" of Signifiers

However, the question of how this "initial appreciation" of the symbolic comes about is almost impossible to theorize, since it is not a question of a gradual acquisition of one signifier after another but the "all or nothing" entry into a "universe" of signifiers.

A signifier is only a signifier by virtue of its relation to other signifiers, and so cannot be acquired in isolation.

Creation "Ex Nihilo"
Evolutionism

Thus the transition to the symbolic is always a question of creation ex nihilo, a radical discontinuity between one order and another, and never a question of a gradual evolution.

The last term is particularly distasteful for Lacan, who warns his students to "beware of that register of thought known as evolutionism," and prefers to describe psychic change in terms of metaphors of creation ex nihilo.[10]

Psychic Change
Historicity of the Psyche

Lacan's opposition to notions of development and evolution are not based on an opposition to the notion of psychic change in itself.

On the contrary, Lacan insists on the historicity of the psyche, and sees the restoration of fluidity and movement to the psyche as the aim of psychoanalytic treatment.

His opposition to the concept of development only reflects his suspicion of all normative models of psychic change; the subject is involved in a continual process of becoming, but this process is threatened, not aided, by imposing a fixed "providential" model of genetic development upon it.

Lacan thus argues that "in psychoanalysis, history is a dimension different to that of development, and that it is an aberration to try to reduce the former to the latter. History only proceeds out of beat with development."[11]

Two "Stages"

What, then, is to be made of the two great "stages" which dominate Lacan's teaching, the mirror stage and the Oedipus complex?

The Mirror stage is clearly related to an event which can be located in a specific time in the life of the child (between six to eighteen months), but this event is only of interest to Lacan because it illustrates the essentially timeless structure of the dual relationship; and it is this structure that constitutes the heart of the Mirror stage.

(It is interesting to note that the French term stade can be understood in both temporal and spatial terms, as a "stage", or as a "stadium").

Likewise, while Freud locates the Oedipus complex at a specific age (the third to the fifth year of life), Lacan conceives of the Oedipus complex as a timeless triangular structure of subjectivity.

History of the Subject

It follows that questions of exactly when the ego is constituted, or when the child enters the Oedipus complex, which have led to so much controversy between other schools of psychoanalysis, are of little interest to Lacan.

While Lacan admits that the "ego is constituted at a specific moment in the history of the subject,"[12] and that there is a moment when the Oedipus complex is formed, he is not interested in the question of exactly when those moments occur.

The question of when the child makes his entry into the symbolic order is irrelevant to psychoanalysis.

All that matters is that before he does so he is incapable of speech and so inaccesible to psychoanalysis, and that after he does so everything prior to that moment is transformed retroactively by the symbolic system.

See Also

References

  1. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 5
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La relation d'objet, 19566-57. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p.15
  3. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 54
  4. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 242
  5. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 197
  6. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 242
  7. 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. 217
  8. 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. 179
  9. 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. 179; 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. 54
  10. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 213
  11. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 875
  12. 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. l15