From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis
Jump to: navigation, search

Gestalt is a German word meaning an organized pattern or whole which has properties other than those of its components in isolation.

The experimental study of gestalts began in 1910 with the study of certain phenomena of perception, and led to a school of thought known as "gestalt psychology" which was based on a holistic concept of mind and body and which stressed the psychological importance of body presentation.

These ideas formed the basis of Gestalt therapy as developed by Paul Goodman, Fritz Perls and Ralph Hefferline.

When Lacan refers to the gestalt, he refers specifically to one kind of oganized pattern, namely the visual image of another member of the same species, which is perceived as a unified whole.

Such an image is a gestalt because it has an effect which none of its component parts have in isolation; this effect is to act as a "releasing mechanism" (French: déclencheur) which triggers certain instinctual responses, such as reproductive behavior.[1]

In other words, when an animal perceives a unified image of another member of its species, it responds in certan instinctual ways.

Lacan gives many examples from ethology of such instinctual responses to images, but his main interest is in the way the gestalt functions in human beings.

For humans the body image is also a gestalt which produces instinctual responses, especially sexual ones, but the power of the image is also more than merely instinctual; it constitutes the essential captivating power of the specular image (see captation).

It is by identifying with the unified gestalt of the body image that the ego is constantly threatened by fears of disintegration, which manifest themselves in images of the fragmented body; these images represent the opposite of the unified gestalt of the body image.

The German word Gestalt means "pattern" or "figure."

As a psychological concept, Gestalt refers to our perception of a form whose meaning exceeds the totality of its components--a Gestalt is always greater than the sum of its parts.

Gestalt psychology is founded on the observation that we do not comprehend our world as an assemblage of disparate elements, but as a pattern of meaningful forms.

Our understanding of a "home", for example, is derived from more than merely the materials and architectural plans that produce the physical "house."

A "face" is likewise more than a collection of identifiable parts.

For Lacan, the imago with which the infant identifies in the mirror stage is a kind of Gestalt.

The infant recognizes not only that it is a particular shape, but also grasps that this shape has a special--in fact transformative--significance.

See also


  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.121f