In his seminar on the ethics of psychoanalysis, Lacan sought to clarify Freud’s definition of the unconscious and especially the question of what is repressed.
For Freud there can be no unconscious without repression, but what exactly is it that is repressed: words, images, feelings? For Lacan, what is repressed is not iamges, words or emotions but something much more fundamental.
Freud hit upon this when, in ‘’The Interpretation of Dreams’’, he suggested that there was a hard impenetrable core of the dream – what he called the ‘navel’ of the dream – that is beyond interpretation.
What is repressed, argues Lacan, is this hard impenetrable core.
This is always a core of the real that is missing from the symbolic and all other representations, images and signifiers are no more than attempts to fill this gap.
In seminar VII Lacan identified this repressed element as ‘’the representative of the representation’’, or ‘’dad Ding’’ (the Thing).
The Thing is the beyond of the signified – that which is unknowable in itself.
It is something beyond symbolization, and therefore associated with the real, or as Lacan puts it, “the thing in its dumb reality.”
The Thing is a lost object that must be continually refound.
However, it is more importantly an ‘object that is nowhere articulated, it is a lost object, but paradoxically an object that was never there in the first place to be lost.”
In the apparatus of the psyche, the Thing represents the secret center of human desire, the nucleus of pleasure/unpleasure. This nucleus is opposed to the reality principle, which it threatens to undermine. The Thing, also called the "lost object," acts as the cause of desire and a sign of longing for an impossible reunion with the object.
Sigmund Freud first referred to the Thing in 1895, in "A Project for a Scientific Psychology" (1950a). He used the term again in 1925 in his essay "Negation." Jacques Lacan fully elaborated this Freudian notion in his seminar The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1992).
An instance of the Thing develops from a complex set of cathected perceptions and memory images that have given pleasure in the past. This set includes a stable kernel, called the Thing, and a variable element, or predicate. The Thing arises in the primordial relation between the infant seeking fulfillment of its vital needs and the primary caregiver, the "fellow being," who is also the first hostile object. The kernel or nucleus is inaccessible to judgment, while the predicate is the object of a judgment that must verify whether the memory image corresponds to reality. In Lacanian psychoanalysis, this process of judging forms the basis for the ego.
The Thing is situated in the unconscious articulation of desire. In its origin, it posits the Other as unconscious, as the force withholding the signifier of satisfaction, while reality is subverted by the symbolic function of memory traces of the lost object, from which the subject's desire is alienated.
The Thing is “the cause of the most fundamental human passion”; it is the object-cause of desire and can only be constituted retrospectively. The Thing is ‘objectively’ speaking ‘’no-thing’’; it is only something in relation to the desire that constitutes it.
After the seminar of 1959-60 the concept of ‘’das Ding’’ was replaced by the idea of the ‘’objet petit a’’. It is the desire of the subject fo fill the emptiness or void at the core of subjectivity and the symbolic that creates the Thing, as opposed to the loss of some original Thing creating the desire to find it.
Lacan introduces das Ding in his seminar on the ethics of psychoanalysis (Seminar VII, 1959-60, 1992). He conceptualizes it as the primordial nothingness against which signification emerges. Das Ding however, is not simply "nothing." To the extent that it carries the resonance of an incestuous mother-child unity, it is so highly cathected that contact or even close proximity is intensely painful. Symbolic representation-- signification--as such, emerges as a defense, a means of establishing a tolerable distance from das Ding. After this seminar, Lacan appears to abandon das Ding and instead focuses on the objet petit a. Because das Ding and the objet petit a are both associated with the mother, they are often used synonymously; where the objet petit a is seen as simply a later term for das Ding.
Conflating das Ding with the objet petit a, however, is problematic from the perspective of psychosis. To the extent that the objet petit a is established through the second division,<a href="#N_1_">(1)</a> i.e., accession into the Symbolic Order, it does not exist for the psychotic. This problematic can be summed up in one question: if the objet petit a is the nothingness against which signification emerges, then how can the psychotic, who by definition has not acceded into the Symbolic Order, speak (and speak incessantly)? As this analysis will demonstrate, this nothingness must still be understood as das Ding. My principal intervention however, is to demonstrate that not only is the psychotic Thing (das Ding) qualitatively different than the Symbolic Thing, the Symbolic Thing is qualitatively different than the objet petit a
(the small a). And furthermore, that this difference can only be understood when situated within a dialectical framework.
To further illustrate this point, it is important to keep in mind that sublation (aufheben) not only cancels (tollere), but elevates (elevare) and preserves (conserve). Therefore, while das Ding is sublated (negated), and as such qualitatively changed through the accession into the Symbolic Order, it is not eliminated. Sublated, the oedipalized (barred) subject has an "extimate" relation to das Ding, i.e., the object of desire/horror exists as the structural center only to the extent that it is absent (the basic principle of desire). Metaphorically negated, das Ding exists symbolically, i.e., it functions via positionality. If we maintain our distance, we experience it as the objet petit a, i.e., as the object of pleasure. If we get too close, we experience it as das Ding, i.e., the object of uncanny horror. Finally, if it is removed from the space of fantasy, it is reduced to just another banal object, and as such, no longer functions as the repository of our desire/horror.
Conversely, the psychotic's relation to das Ding is (painfully) intimate, and is characterized by the proliferation of unbarred Imaginary Others(A) from which it cannot escape. Put another way, to the extent that the object circulates (extimately) within the Symbolic, i.e., at the sublated level of metaphor, it can be moved out of the space of desire/horror via symbolization. In short, the sublation of das Ding establishes the metaphoric distance necessary for a distinct (delineated) sense of self.
For Freud there can be no unconscious without repression, but what exactly is it that is [[[repressed]]: words, images, feelings? For Lacan, what is repressed is not images, words or emotions but something much more fundamental.
What is repressed, argues [[Lacan[[, is this hard impenetrable core.
It is the desire of the subject fo fill the emptiness or void at the core of subjectivity and the symbolic that creates the Thing, as opposed to the loss of some original thing creating the desire to find it.
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It's A Freudian Thing - You Wouldn't Understand.
- 1992: 55
- 1992: 58
- 1992, 1986, 97
- 1992: 55
- 1992: 58
- 1992, 1986, 97
- Freud, Sigmund. (1925h). Negation. SE, 19: 233-239.
- ——. (1950c ). A project for a scientific psychology. SE, 1: 281-387.
- Lacan, Jacques. (1992). The seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book 7: The ethics of psychoanalysis, 1959-1960 (Dennis Porter, Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton.