From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis
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alienation (aliÈnation)

The term 'alienation' does not constitute part of Freud's theoretical vocabulary. In Lacan's work the term implies both psychiatric and philosophical references:

  • Psychiatry

French psychiatry in the nineteenth century (e.g. Pinel) conceived of mental illness as aliÈnation mentale, and a common term in French for 'madman' is aliÈnÈ (a term which Lacan himself uses; Ec, 154).

  • Philosophy

The term 'alienation' is the usual translation for the German term Entfremdung which features in the philosophy of Hegel and Marx. However, the Lacanian concept of alienation differs greatly from the ways that the term is employed in the Hegelian and Marxist tradition (as Jacques-Alain Miller points out; Sll, 215). For Lacan, alienation is not an accident that befalls the subject and which can be transcended, but an essential constitutive feature of the subject. The subject is fundamentally SPLIT, alienated from himself, and there is no escape from this division, no possibility of 'wholeness' or synthesis. Alienation is an inevitable consequence of the process by which the ego is constituted by identification with the counterpart: 'the initial synthesis of the ego is essentially an alter ego, it is alienated' (S3, 39). In Rimbaud's words, 'I is an other' (E, 23). Thus alienation belongs to the imaginary order: 'Alienation is constitutive of the imaginary order. Alienation is the imaginary as such' (S3, 146). Although alienation is an essential characteristic of all subjectivity, psychosis represents a more extreme form of alienation. Lacan coined the term EXTIMACY ÕO designate the nature of this alienation, in which alterity inhabits the innermost core of the subject. Lacan devotes the whole of chapter 16 of The Seminar, Book XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1964a) to a discussion of alienation and the related concept of separation.