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Nature

From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis
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French: nature

Jacques Lacan

Human Beings and Animals

A constant theme running throughout Lacan's work is the distinction he draws between human beings and other animals, or, as Lacan puts it, between "human society" and "animal society."[1]

Languages and Codes

The basis of this distinction is language; humans have language, whereas animals merely have codes.

Symbolic and Imaginary

The consequence of this fundamental difference is that animal psychology is entirely dominated by the imaginary, whereas human psychology is complicated by the additional dimension of the symbolic.

Double Sense of the Term

Within the context of this bindary opposition between human beings and other animals, Lacan uses the term "nature" in a complex double sense.

Nature / Culture Opposition

On the one hand, he uses it to designate one term in the opposition, namely the animal world. In this sense, Lacan adopts the traditional anthropological opposition between nature and culture (culture being, in Lacanian terms, the symbolic order).

Regulation of Kinship

Like Claude Levi-Strauss and other anthropologists, Lacan points to the prohibition of incest as the kernel of the legal structure which differentiates culture from nature.

The primordial Law is therefore that which in regulating marriage superimposes the kingdom of culture on that of a nature abandoned to the law of mating.[2]

Paternal Function

The regulation of kinship by the incest taboo points to the fact that the paternal function is at the heart of the rift between humans and animals. By inscribing a line of descent from male to male and thus ordering a series of generations, the Father marks the difference between the symbolic and the imaginary.

Human and Animal Imaginary

In other words, what is unique about human beings is not that in human beings the imaginary order is distorted by the added dimension of the symbolic. The imaginary is what animals and human beings have in common, except that in human beings it is no longer a natural imaginary. Hence Lacan repudiates "the doctrine of a discontinuity between animal psychology and human psychology which is far away from our thought."[3]

Natural Order of Human Existence

On the other hand, Lacan also uses the term "nature" to denote the idea that there is a "natural order" in human existence, an idea which Lacan calls the "great fantasy of nautra mater, the very idea of nature."[4]

Biological Basis of Human Behavior

This great fantasy of nature underlies modern psychology, which attempts to explain human behavior by reference to ethological categories such as instinct and adaptation.

Symbolic Alienation from Natural Order

Lacan is highly critical of all such attempts to explain the phenomena in terms of nature. He argues that they are based on a failure to recognize the importance of the symbolic order, which radically alienates human beings from the natural order.

In the human world, even "those significations that are closest to need, significations that are relative to the most purely biological insertion into a nutrittive and captivating environment, primordial significations, are, in their sequence and in their very foundation, subject to the laws of the signifier.[5]

Mythical Pre-Linguistic State of Nature

Lacan thus argues that "the Freudian discovery teaches us that all natural harmony in man is profoundly disconcerted."[6] There is not even a pure natural state at the beginning in which the human subject might exist before being caught up in the symbolic order.

"The Law is there ab origine."[7]

Need is never present in a pure pre-linguistic state in the human being: such a "mythical" pre-linguistic need can only be hypothesized after it has been articulated in demand.

Human Sexuality, Nature and Culture

The absence of a natural order in human existence can be seen most clearly in human sexuality. Freud and Lacan both argue that human sexuality is entirely caught up in the cultural order.

Perversion

There is no such thing, for the human being, as a natural sexual relationship. One consequence of this is that perversion cannot be defined by reference to a supposed natural or biological norm governing sexuality.

Instincts and Drives

Whereas animal instincts are relatively invariable, human sexuality is governed by drives which are extremely variable and do not aim at a biological function.

See Also

References

  1. 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. 223
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.66
  3. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p.484
  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.149
  5. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book III. The Psychoses, 1955-56. Trans. Russell Grigg. London: Routledge, 1993. p.198
  6. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book III. The Psychoses, 1955-56. Trans. Russell Grigg. London: Routledge, 1993. p.83
  7. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book III. The Psychoses, 1955-56. Trans. Russell Grigg. London: Routledge, 1993. p.83