Metaphor is usually defined as a trope in which one thing is described by comparing it to another, but without directly asserting a comparison.
However, Lacan's use of the term owes little to this definition and much to the work of Roman Jakobson, who, in a major article published in 1956, established an opposition between metaphor and metonymy.
On the basis of a distinction between two kinds of aphasia, Jakobson distinguished two fundamentally opposed axes of language: the metaphorical axis which deals with the selection of linguistic terms and allows for their substitution, and the metonymic axis which deals with the combination of linguistic items (both sequentially and simultaneously).
A year later he dedicates a whole paper to a more detailed analysis of the opposition.
Following Jakobson's identification of metaphor with the substitutive axis of language, Lacan defines metaphor as the substitution of one signifier for another, and provides the first formula of metaphor.
This formula is to be read as follows.
Inside the brackets, he writes S'/S, which means "the substitution of one signifier for another."
The sign = is to be read: "is congruent with."
Lacan's own explanation of this second formula is as follows:
The capital Ss are signifiers, x the unknown signification and s the signified induced by the metaphor, which consists in substitution in the signifying chain of S for S'. The elision of S', represented here by the bar through it, is the condition of the success of the metaphor.
Lacan puts his concept of metaphor to use in a variety of contexts.
Lacan analyzes the Oedipus complex in terms of a metaphor because it invovles the crucial concept of substitution; in this case, the substitution of the Name-of-the-Father for the desire of the mother.
Repression and Neurotic Symptoms
The "metonymic object" (the signifier which is elided, S' in the previous formula) is repressed, but returns in the surplus meaning (+) produced in the metaphor.
However, he differs from Jakobson over the precise nature of this parallel.
The Anal Drive
In his paper, "On transformations of instinct as exemplified in anal eroticism"', Freud shows how anal eroticism is closely connected with the possibility of substitution.
"The anal level is the locus of metaphor - one object for another, gives the faeces in place of the phallus."
"It is insofar as the function of the érastès, of the lover, who is the subject of lack, comes in the place of, substitutes himself for, the function of érômènos, the loved object, that the signification of love is produced."
- Jakobson, Roman. (1956) "Two aspects of language and two types of aphasic disturbances. Selected Writings, vol. II, Word and Language, The Hague: Mouton, 1971, pp. 239-59.
- Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book III. The Psychoses, 1955-56. Trans. Russell Grigg. London: Routledge, 1993. p. 218-20, 222-30
- Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre V. Les formations de l'inconscient, 1957-58, unpublished.
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.164
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 200
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.200
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.175
- 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. 104
- Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book III. The Psychoses, 1955-56. Trans. Russell Grigg. London: Routledge, 1993. p. 218
- Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre VIII. Le transfert, 1960-61. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 53
- Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX: Encore, On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge 1972-1973. Trans. Bruce Fink. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998. pp. 112, 120, 127, 128