Identificatory project

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The notion of the identificatory project was proposed by Piera Aulagnier to account for the I's (the perceived self's) work of identification as a function of future time. In The Violence of Interpretation: From Pictogram to Statement (1975), Aulagnier defined the identificatory project as "that continuous self-construction of the I by the I that is necessary if that agency is to be able to project itself into a temporal movement, a projection on which the I's very existence depends" (p. 114). The temporal dimension that is projected onto both the past of memory (in auto-historization) and the imagined future (in the identificatory project) is the basis for the I's ability to respond in its own name to the unavoidable questions that sum up the identification process: "Who am I?" and "What must the I become?" Aulagnier's theory of identification owes a great deal to Jacques Lacan. For her, it is the mother who initially identifies the preverbal infant as the entity that demands what she gives; because of this, the infant depends upon the maternal imaginary. But at the same time, the infant self-represents itself based on the "pictographic representation" it has of its earliest experiences of pleasure. The second phase of identification, which follows this primary period, is specular identification (the mirror stage). In Lacan's theorization, this stage shapes the function of the I and establishes the imaginary register as the locus of the ego's identifications ("The Mirror State As Formative of the Function of the I As Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience" [1949/2004]). For her part, Aulagnier emphasized that after the young child recognizes the image in the mirror as being its own, it turns toward his mother seeking approval in her gaze; this enables the child to see in the mirror "the junction between the image and the legend" (p. 124). In these conditions, object-libido and ego-libido are joined together; the baby discovers in the image the entity whose presence brings pleasure to the mother and in turn derives pleasure from the valorization of this image that he knows to be his own. Hence the definition that Aulagnier proposed with regard to the second phase of identification: "To be like the image that others admire or to be like the image admired by those whom the I admires are the two formulations that the narcissistic wish borrows from the field of identifications" (p. 126). With the notion of "identification with the projection" (1968/1986), which in The Violence of Interpretation became the "identificatory project," a fundamental change took place. The immediacy of the exchange of care, contact, and gazes was succeeded by the temporal distance of the project(ion) referring to a time in the future. However, the possibility of access to the dimension of a genuine future (one that is not merely a coming reactualization of the past) is not automatic, and it is the trial of castration that gives the subject such access. Aulagnier likened what she calls the identificatory project to what Freud called "ego ideals." She also underscored its difficulty: "The I's task is to become capable of thinking its own temporality. To do this it must think, anticipate, and invest in a future time-space, despite the fact that lived experience will quickly reveal that in doing so, the I is investing not only in the unforeseeable, but also in a time that it might not even have to live. In other words, the I is cathecting an 'object' and a 'goal' that possess the properties that it most abhors: precariousness, unpredictability, and the possibility of inadequacy." In the "something less" borne in the present, by comparison with the ideal-filled future, Aulagnier proposed in The Violence of Interpretation to see "the assumption of the castration trial in the identificatory register" (p. 116), meaning that the I will never coincide with its ideal in the present of a realization, but instead will always project it forward in time. The identificatory register can thus be seen to be indissociable from the libidinal register, because a representation of the desiring subject always figures there. Being, or rather, knowing who one is, is essentially knowing who one wants to become. This opens the way for extending these ideas into clinical practice, not only with regard to psychosis, but in other areas ranging from geriatric depression to adolescent turmoil.

See Also


  1. Lacan, Jacques. (2004). The mirror state as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience. InÉcrits: A selection (Bruce Fink, Trans., pp. 3-9). New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1949)
  2. Mijolla-Mellor, Sophie de. (1998). Penser la psychose. Une lecture de Piera Aulagnier. Paris: Dunod.