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Nature of the Psyche
Inter- and Intra- subjectivity
This remains a key point throughout Lacan's work, in which the emphasis on structure is a constant reminder that what determines the subject is not some supposed "essence" but simply his position with respect to other subjects and other signifiers.
In the mid-1950s, when Lacan begins to reformulate his ideas in terms borrowed from Saussurean structural linguistics, the term "structure" comes to be increasingly associated with Saussure's model of language.
It is this concept of a system in which each unit is constituted purely by virtue of its differences from the other units which comes to constitute the core meaning of the term "structure" in Lacan's work from this point on.
Language is the paradigmatic structure, and Lacan's famous dictum, "the unconscious is structured like a language", is therefore tautologous, since "to be structured" and "to be like a language" mean the same thing.
Saussure's structural approach to linguistics was developed further by Roman Jakobson, who developed phoneme theory; Jakobson's work was then taken up by the French anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss, who used the structural phonemic model to analyze non-linguistic cultural data such as kinship relations and myth.
This application of structural analysis to anthropology launched the structuralist movement by showing how the Saussurean concept of structure could be applied to an object of enquiry other than language.
Lacan was heavily influenced by all three of these thinkers, and in this sense he can be seen as part of the structuralist movement.
In 1956, for example, he states that "a structure is in the first place a group of elements forming a covariant set."
Surface and Depth
The concept of structure is often taken to imply an opposition between surface and depth, between directly observable phenomena and "deep structures" which are not the object of immediate experience.
On the one hand, he rejects the concept of "directly observable phenomena", arguing that observation is always already theoretical.
On the other hand, he also rejects the idea that structures are somehow "deep" or distant from experience, arguing that they are present in the field of experience itself; the unconscious is on the surface, and looking for it in "the depths" is to miss it.
The most important feature of structural analysis is not, then, any supposed distinction between surface and depth, but, as Lévi-Strauss shows in his structural analysis of myth, the discovery of fixed relations between loci which are themselves empty.
In other words, whatever elements may be placed in the positions specified by a given structure, the relations between the positions themselves remain the same.
Thus the elements interact not on the basis of any inherent or intrinsic properties they possess, but simply on the basis of the positions which they occupy in the structure.
Lacanian nosography is a categorical classification system based on a discrete series, rather than a dimensional system based on a continuum.
The three major clinical structures together constitute all the three possible positions of the subject in relation to the Other; every subject encountered in psychoanalytic treatment can therefore be diagnosed as either neurotic, or psychotic, or perverse.
Lacan follows Freud in arguing that the classical method of psychoanalytic treatment (involving free association and the use of the couch) is only appropriate for neurotic subjects and perverse subjects, and not for psychotics.
Critical Period Hypothesis
Although it is not clear how long this critical period lasts, it is held that after this critical period the clinical structure is fixed for ever and cannot be changed.
For example within the clinical structure of neurosis, he distinguishes two kinds of neurosis (obsessional neurosis and hysteria), and within the clinical structure of psychosis he distinguishes between paranoia, schizophrenia and manic-depressive psychosis.
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p.89
- Lacan, Jacques. "Au-delà du 'principe de realité'." Evolution Psychiatrique. 1936: 67-86; Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966: 73-92.
- Lacan, Jacques. Les complexes familiaux dans la formation de l'individu. Essai d'analyse d'une fonction en psychologie, Paris: Navarin, 1984 . p. 58
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 132
- Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1916: 120
- Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre XX. Encore, 1972-73. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1975. p.93
- Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book III. The Psychoses, 1955-56. Trans. Russell Grigg. London: Routledge, 1993. p. 183
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 648-9
- Lacan, Jacques. 1973b
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 649
- Lévi-Strauss 1955
- (N.B. Lacan prefers to speak in terms of "Freudian structures" rather than "clinical structures", but the latter term is the one which predominates in the writings of Lacanian psychoanalysts today.)