Prohibitive Function of the Symbolic Father
The expression “the name of the father,” when it first appeared in Lacan’s work, in the early 1950s, referred generally to the “prohibitive role” of the “symbolic father” as the one who lays down the incest taboo in the oedipus complex.
“It is in the ‘name of the father’ that we must recognize the support of the symbolic function which, from the dawn of history, has identified his person with the figure of the law.”
The “No” of the Father
In the French language, the expression “the name of the father” (“’’le nom du père’’”) is phonetically similar to the expression “the ‘no’ of the father” (“’’le ‘non’ du père’’”). Lacan plays on this similarity to emphasize the prohibitive function of the symbolic father (the ‘no’ of the incest taboo).
In ‘’The Seminar, Book III: The Psychoses’’ the expression becomes capitalized and hyphenated. The Name-of-the-Father is now the fundamental signifier which permtis signification to proceed normally. This fundamental signifier both confers identity on the subject (insofar as it names him, positions him within the symbolic order, etc.) and signifies the oedipal prohibition, the ‘no’ of the incest taboo. If this signifier is foreclosed (not included in the symbolic order), the result is psychosis. Nevertheless, Jacques Lacan developed this concept with the ultimately unsuccessful aim of curing psychosis.
Lacan claimed that, although the infant must come to identify with the father (in order to participate in sexual relations), the infant could never ‘become’ the father (as this would imply sexual relations with the mother). The position of the father could never be held by the infant. Thus, through the dictates on the one hand to be the father and on the other not to, the father is elevated to an ideal. The father is no longer a biological father, but a function of a father: the Name-of-the-Father.
The same goes for the mother — Lacan no longer talks of a real mother, but simply of desire, which is a desire to return to the undifferentiated state of being together with the mother, before the interference through the Name-of-the-Father. This desire necessarily lacks something, i.e. it is a desire of lack.
The father and accordingly the phallus (not a real penis, but a representation of mastery) can never be reached, thus he is above or outside the language system and cannot be spoken about. All language relies on this absence of the phallus from the system of signification. According to this theory, without a phallus outside of language, nothing in language would make sense or could be differentiated. Thus Lacan remodels the linguistic theory of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. It is this idea that forms the basis of much contemporary thought, especially poststructuralism. Nothing can be thought that is outside of language, but the phallus is there and therefore structures the whole system of thought accordingly. Oedipus could also be thought of the theme of the story.
Freud vs Lacan
In Totem and Taboo, Sigmund Freud uses a theory of the history, based on Darwin's theory of evolution, in which there was first a terrible father that the brothers had to kill. Feeling guilty about it, the brothers began to pay homage to the father and founded monotheism. In Lacan's theory, the learning of language leads the child to kill his father as a symbol. Lacan does not use any historical theory.
This concept allows a new understanding of neurosis.
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. p.67