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Law

From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis
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French: loi

Jacques Lacan

Social Relations

Lacan's discussions of the "Law" (which Lacan often writes with a capital "L") owe much to the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss. As in the work of Lévi-Strauss, the Law in Lacan's work refers not to a particular piece of legislation, but to the fundamental principles which underlie all social relations. The law is the set of universal principles which make social existence possible, the structures that govern all forms of social exchange, whether gift-giving, kinship relations or the formation of pacts.

Symbolic Order

Since the most basic form of exchange is communication itself, the law is fundamentally a linguistic entity -- it is the law of the signifier:

This law, then, is revealed clearly enough as identical with an order of language. For without kinship nominations, no power is capable of instituting the order of preferences and taboos that bind and weave the yarn of lineage through succeeding generations.[1]

This legal-linguistic structure is in fact no more and no less than the symbolic order itself.

Human

Following Lévi-Strauss, Lacan argues that the law is essentially human; it is the law which separates man from the other animals, by regulating sexual relations that are, among animals, unregulated:

"(Human law is) the primordial Law... which in regulating marriage ties superimposes the kingdom of culture on that of a nature abandoned to the law of mating. The prohibition of incest is merely its subjective pivot."[2]
Oedipus Complex

It is the father who imposes this law on the subject in the Oedipus complex; the paternal agency (or paternal function) is no more than the name for this prohibitive and legislative role. In the second time of the Oedipus complex the father appears as the omnipotent "father of the primal horde" of Totem and Taboo.[3] This is the lawgiver who is not included in his own law because he is the Law, denying others access to the women of the tribe while he himself has access to them all. In the third time of the Oedipus complex the father is included in his own law, the law is revealed as a pact rather than an imperative.

Regulation of Desire

The Oedipus complex represents the regulation of desire by the law. It is the law of the pleasure principle, which commands the subject to "Enjoy as little as possible!", and thus maintains the subject at a safe distance from the Thing. The relationship between the law and desire is, however, a dialectical one; "desire is the reverse of the law."[4] If, on the one hand, law imposes limits on desire, it is also true that the law creates desire in the first place by creating interdiction. Desire is essentially the desire to transgress, and for there to be transgression it is first necesary for there to be prohibition.[5] Thus it is not the case that there is a pregiven desire which the law then regulates, but that desire is born out of the process of regulation.

"What we see here is the tight bond between desire and Law."[6]


See Also

References

  1. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 66
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 66
  3. Freud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo, 1912-13. SE XIII, 1-161.
  4. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 787
  5. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p.83-4
  6. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 177