|French: relation duelle|
The imaginary triad is Lacan's attempt to theorize the preoedipal stage in terms other than those of a merely dual relationship, and refers to the moment preceding the Oedipus complex, when a third element (the imaginary phallus) circulates between the mother and infant.
One of Lacan's most frequent criticisms of the psychoanalytic theory of his day is that it constantly fails to theorise the role of the symbolic, and thus reduces the psychoanalytic encounter to an imaginary dual relationship between analyst and analysand.
In particular, it reduces analytic treatment to an ego-to-ego encounter which, because of the aggressivity inherent in all imaginary dual relations, often degenerates into a "fight to the death" between analyst and analysand, a power struggle in which they are "at daggers drawn."
"It is within a three- rather than two-term relation that we have to formulate the analytic experience."
Rather than seeing the treatment as a power struggle in which the analyst must overcome the patient's resistance, which is not psychoanalysis but suggestion, the analyst must realise that both he and the patient are equally subjected to the power of a third term: language itself.
"All two-sided relationships are always stamped with the style of the imaginary."
Other such triadic schemes are the three clinical structures of neurosis, psychosis and perversion; the three formations of the ego (ego-ideal, ideal ego and superego); the triad nature-culture-society; etc.
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 774
- 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.218
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 197; Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La relation d'objet, 19566-57. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 29
- Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book III. The Psychoses, 1955-56. Trans. Russell Grigg. London: Routledge, 1993. p.319
- 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. 11
- Lacan, Jacques. "Fetishism: The Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real" (with W. Granoff), in M. Balint (ed.), Perversions: Psychodynamics and Therapy, New York: Random House, London: Tavistock, 1956b. p. 274