Translator, Alan Sheridan, has decided to retain the French word. The sense is of a "failure to recognize", or "misconstruction". The concept is central to Lacan's thinking, since, for him, knowledge (conaissance) is inextricably bound up with méconnaissance.
The French term méconnaissance corresponds roughly to the English words "misunderstanding" and "misrecognition". However, the French term is usually left untranslated when translating Lacan into English in order to show its close relationship with the term connaissance ("knowledge").
Thus, in the imaginary order, self-knowledge (me-connaissance) is synonymous with misunderstanding (méconnaissance), because the process by which the ego is formed in the mirror stage is at the same time the institution of alienation from the symbolic determination of being.
As well as being the structure of ordinary neurotic self-knowledge, méconnaissance is also the structure of paranoiac delusions, which are described in terms of a méconnaissance systématique de la reéalité.
This structural homology between the ordinary constitution of the ego and paranoiac delusions is what leads Lacan to describe all knowledge (connaissance), in both neurosis and psychosis, as "paranoiac knowledge."
Méconnaissance is to be distinguished from ignorance, which is one of the three passions. Whereas ignorance is a passion for the absence of knowledge, méconnaissance is an imaginary misrecognition of a symbolic knowledge (savoir) that the subject does possess somewhere.
Misrecognition is not ignorance. Misrecognition represents a certain organization of affirmations and negations, to which the subject is attached. Hence it cannot be conceived without correlate knowledge... There must surely be, behind his misrecognition, a kind of knowledge of what there is to misrecognize.
Again, this applies both in the ordinary construction of the ego and in paranoia. In the former case, the ego is basically a misrecognition of the symbolic determinants of subjectivity (the discourse of the Other, the unconscious). In the latter case, paranoiac delusions always imply a recognition (reconnaissance), as is evident in systematic misunderstanding (méconnaissance systématique), where it must clearly be admitted that that which is denied is in some way recognized (reconnu).
- Lacan, Jacques. "Some Reflections on the Ego," Int. J. Psycho-Anal., vol. 34, 1953 [1951b]. p. 12
- 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.167
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p.165