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In 1945, Lacan distinguishes between three kinds of subject.
- Firstly, there is the impersonal subject, independent of the other, the pure grammatical subject, the noetic subject, the "it" of "it is known that."
- Secondly, there is the anonymous reciprocal subject who is completely equal to and substitutable for any other, and who recognises himself in equivalence with the other.
- Thirdly, there is the personal subject, whose uniqueness is constituted by an act of self-affirmation.
It is always this third sense of the subject, the subject in his uniqueness, that constitutes the focus of Lacan's work.
Subject and Ego
"[Freud] wrote Das Ich und das Es in order to maintain this fundamental distinction between the true subject of the unconscious and the ego as constituted in its nucleus by a series of alienating identifications.
Lacan plays on the various meanings of the term "subject."
Lacan plays on the philosophical nuances of the latter term to emphasise that his concept of the subject concerns those aspects of the human being that cannot (or must not) be objectified (reified, reduced to a thing), nor be studied in an 'objective' way.
"What do we call a subject? Quite precisely, what in the development of objectivation, is outside of the object."
He distinguishes the subject of the statement from the subject of the enunciation to show that because the subject is essentially a speaking being (parlêtre), he is inescapably divided, castrated, split.
Philosophy and Law
In philosophical discourse, it denotes an individual self-consciousness, whereas in legal discourse, it denotes a person who is under the power of another (e.g. a person who is subject to the sovereign).
"The subject is a subject only by virtue of his subjection to the field of the Other."
in the term subject . . . I am not designating the living substratum needed by this phenomenon of the subject, nor any sort of substance, nor any being possessing knowledge in his pathos . . . nor even some incarnated logos, but the Cartesian subject, who appears at the moment when doubt is recognised as certainty.
Subject of the Unconscious
- Lacan, Jacques. De la psychose paranoiaque dans ses rapports avec la personalité, Paris: Navarin, 1975. .
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 75
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 83
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p.207-8
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.128
- Lacan, Jacques. "Proposition du 9 octobre 1967 sur le psychanalyste de l'École," 1967, Scilicet, no. 1 (1968) p. 19
- 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. 194
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 835
- Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. p. 188
- Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p. 126