Originally used by Lacan to describe the castrating father of the Oedipus complex who personifies the taboo on incest, the expression is at once a semi-humorous religious allusion (In nomine patris) and a play on the near-homonyms non and nom: the name-of-the-father (nom-du-père) is also the father's 'no' (non-du-père) to the child's incestuous desire for the mother. In Lacan's 1955-6 seminar, The Psychoses, the name-of-the-father is described as the fundamental signifier that both confers identity on human subjects by situating them in a lineage and the symbolic order, and reiterates the prohibition on incest. The foreclosure of the name-of-the-father, or its expulsion from the subject's symbolic universe, is said by Lacan to be the mechanism that triggers psychosis.
Jacques Lacan introduced the notion of the "Name-of-the-Father." By it he meant that every signifier, by its connection, not to an object, but rather to another signifier (Ferdinand de Saussure), symbolizes the lack that it introduces into being. As the particular symbolizer produces this effect while at the same time transforming it, the Name-of-the-Father enables human beings to tolerate and maintain desire. Without it, lack is experienced as a devouring force (cf. the case of Little Hans, Freud, 1909b) or a sucking force, the representation of a wound in the maternal body that is the source of a debt that can never be repaid.
The child discovers this name as a metaphor for the enigmatic object desired by the mother in the body of the child's father. Thus, the child can find his way to one of two ways of assuming for this phallus; he can either have it like the father, or be it, in order to be desired.
The Oedipus complex makes the father the agent of the prohibition that makes it the impossible to access the object-cause-of-desire. Lacan's structural analysis shows that the father is not himself the guarantor of the symbolic law, but is the one who authorizes desire. "[T]he true function of the Father . . . is fundamentally to unite (and not to oppose) a desire to the Law," he wrote in "Subversion of the Subject and Dialectic of Desire" (Lacan, p. 309).
In the Other, the phallus thus no longer symbolizes a devouring agency, but instead one that rejoices if the subject experiences sexual enjoyment (jouissance) and procreates. Only one father can take on such a function, to the point of identifying with the phallus as symbolized by the dead Father.
It is understandable that some religions hold non-procreative sexual enjoyment (jouissance) to be sacrilegious, thus defrauding the phallic symbol by defying or abusing the dead Father. Religion's traditional function is to affirm the primacy of sexual enjoyment against the destructive, abnormal forms of enjoyment that are in fashion.
See also: Fatherhood; Foreclosure; Imaginary identification/symbolic identification; Infantile psychosis; Metaphor; Metonymy; Myth of origins; Parade of signifiers; Phobias in children; Psychoses, chronic and delusional; Real, the (Lacan); Real, Symbolic, and Imaginary father; Repudiation; Schizophrenia; Seminar, Lacan's; Signifier; Signifier/signified; Signifying chain; Superego; Symptom/sinthome. Bibliography
* Lacan, Jacques. (2002). The subversion of the subject and the dialectic of desire in the Freudian subconscious. In Écrits: A selection (Bruce Fink, Trans.). New York: Norton.
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