I only recently noticed that Nosubject.com has been offline... for some time. My apologies. The site is now back online. -- August 2017

Ego

From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis
Jump to: navigation, search
French: moi
German: Ich
Jacques Lacan
Moi and Je

From very early on in his work, Lacan plays on the fact that the German term which Freud uses (Ich) can be translated into French by two words: moi (the usual term which French psychoanalysts use for Freud's Ich) and je.

Thus, for example, in his paper on the mirror stage, Lacan oscillates between the two terms.[1]

While it is difficult to discern any systematic distinction between the two terms in this paper, it is clear that they are not simply used interchangeably, and in 1956 he is still groping for a way to distinguish clearly between them.[2]

Shifter

It was the publication of Jakobson's paper on shifters in 1957 that allowed Lacan to theorise the distinction more clearly; thus, in 1960, Lacan refers to the je as a shifter, which designates but does not signify the subject of the enunciation.[3]

Translation

Most English translations make Lacan's usage clear by rendering moi as "ego" and je as "I".

Ego-Psychology

When Lacan uses the Latin term ego (the term used to translate Freud's Ich in the Standard Edition), he uses it in the same sense as the term moi, but also means it to imply a more direct reference to Anglo-American schools of psychoanalysis, especially ego-psychology.

Sigmund Freud

Freud's use of the term Ich (ego) is extremely complex and went through many developments throughout the course of his work before coming to denote one of the three agencies of the so-called "structural model" (the others being the id and the superego).

Two Approaches

Despite the complexity of Freud's formulations on the ego, Lacan discerns two main approaches to the ego in Freud's work, and points out that they are apparently contradictory.

On the one hand, in the context of the theory of narcissism, "the ego takes sides against the object", whereas on the other hand, in the context of the so-called "structural model", "the ego takes sides with the object."[4]

The former approach places the ego firmly in the libidinal economy and links it with the pleasure principle, whereas the latter approach links the ego to the perception-consciousness system and opposes it to the pleasure principle.

Lacan claims too that the apparent contradiction between these two accounts "disappears when we free ourselves from a naive conception of the reality-principle."[5]

Thus the reality that the ego mediates with, in the latter account, is in fact made out of the pleasure principle which the ego represents in the former account.

However, it is arguable whether this argument really resolves the contradiction or whether it does not, in effect, simply privilege the former account at the expense of the latter.

Center of the Subject

Lacan argues that Freud's discovery of the unconscious removed the ego from the central position to which western philosophy, at least since Descartes, had traditionally assigned it.

Lacan also argues that the proponents of ego-psychology betrayed Freud's radical discovery by relocating the ego as the center of the subject.

In opposition to this school of thought, Lacan maintains that the ego is not at the center, that the ego is in fact an object. '

Identification

The ego is a construction which is formed by identification with the specular image in the Mirror stage.

Alienation

It is thus the place where the subject becomes alienated from himself, transforming himself into the counterpart.

Paranoiac Structure

This alienation on which the ego is based is structurally similar to paranoia, which is why Lacan writes that the ego has a paranoiac structure.[6]

Imaginary Formation

The ego is thus an imaginary formation, as opposed to the subject, which is a product of the symbolic.[7]

Méconnaissance

Indeed, the ego is precisely a méconnaissance of the symbolic order, the seat of resistance.

Symptom

The ego is structured like a symptom:

"The ego is structured exactly like a symptom. At the heart of the subject, it is only a privileged symptom, the human symptom par excellence, the mental illness of man."[8]
Analytic Treatment

Lacan is therefore totally opposed to the idea, current in ego-psychology, that the aim of psychoanalytic treatment is to strengthen the ego.

Since the ego is "the seat of illlusions",[9] to increase its strength would only succeed in increasing the subject's alienation.

Resistance

The ego is also the source of resistance to psychoanalytic treatment, and thus to strengthen it would only increase those resistances.

Because of its imaginary fixity, the ego is resistant to all subjective growth and change, and to the dialectical movement of desire.

By undermining the fixity of the ego, psychoanalytic treatment aims to restore the dialectic of desire and reinitiate the coming-into-being of the subject.

Adaptation

Lacan is opposed to the ego-psychology view which takes the ego of the analysand to be the ally of the analyst in the treatment.

He also rejects the view that the aim of psychoanalytic treatment is to promote the adaptation of the ego to reality.

See Also
References
  1. Lacan, Jacques. "Le stade du miroir comme formateur de la fonction du Je," in Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. pp. 93-100 ["The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience", trans. Alan Sheridan, in Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. pp. 1-7].
  2. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book III. The Psychoses, 1955-56. Trans. Russell Grigg. London: Routledge, 1993. p. 261
  3. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 298
  4. Lacan, Jacques. "Some Reflections on the Ego," Int. J. Psycho-Anal., vol. 34, 1953: p. 11
  5. Lacan, Jacques. "Some Reflections on the Ego," Int. J. Psycho-Anal., vol. 34, 1953: p. 11
  6. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 20
  7. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 128
  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. 16
  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. 62