Freud uses the term "other" to speak of der Andere ("the other person") and das Andere ("otherness"), but in the 1930s, when Lacan first begins to use the term, it is not very salient, and refers simply to "other people." The term seems to be borrowed from Hegel, to whose work Lacan was introduced in a series of lectures given by Alexandre Kojève in 1933-9.
Little and Big Other
In 1955, Lacan draws a distinction between the "little other" and the "big Other" ("the Other"), a distinction which remains central throughout the rest of his work. Thereafter, in Lacanian algebra, the big Other is designated A (upper case, for French Autre) and the little other is designated a (lower case italicized, for French autre). Lacan asserts that an awareness of this distinction is fundamental to analytic practice: the analyst must be "thoroughly imbued" with the difference between A and a, so that he can situate himself in the place of Other, and not of the other.
Little other (autre, "a")
The little other is the other who is not, in fact, other, but a reflection or projection of the ego. It is simultaneously the counterpart and the specular image. The little other is inscribed in the imaginary order as both the counterpart and the specular image.
Big Other (Autre, "A")
The big Other designates radical alterity, an otherness which transcends the illusory otherness of the imaginary because it cannot be assimilated through identification. Lacan equates the big Other with language and the law, and hence the big Other is inscribed in the symbolic order. Indeed, the big Other is the symbolic insofar as it is particularized for each subject. Thus, the Other is both another subject in its radical alterity and unassimilable uniqueness and also the symbolic order which mediates the relationship with that subject.
Speech and the Other
However, the meaning of "the Other as another subject" is strictly secondary to the meaning of "the Other as symbolic order." "The Other must first of all be considered a locus, the locus in which speech is constituted." It is thus only possible to speak of the Other as a subject in a secondary sense, in the sense that a subject may occupy this position and thereby "embody" the Other for another subject.
Discourse of the Other
In arguing that speech originates not in the ego or even in the subject but in the Other, Lacan is stressing that speech and language are beyond conscious control; they come from an other place, outside consciousness, and hence "the unconscious is the discourse of the Other." In conceiving of the Other as a place, Lacan alludes to Freud's concept of psychical locality, in which the unconscious is described as "the other scene."
Lack in the Other
It is the mother who first occupies the position of the big Other for the child, because it is she who receives the child's primitive cries and retroactively sanctions them as a particular message. The castration complex is formed when the child discovers that this Other is not complete, that there is a lack in the Other. In other words, there is always a signifier missing from the treasury of signifiers constituted by the Other. The mythical complete Other (written A in Lacanian algebra) does not exist. In 1957 Lacan illustrates this incomplete Other graphically by striking a bar through the symbol
A. Hence another name for the castrated, incomplete Other is the barred Other.
The Other Sex
- Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. Chapter 19
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 140
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 454
- This is why the symbol a can represent the little other and the ego interchangeably in schema L.
- Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book III. The Psychoses, 1955-56. Trans. Russell Grigg. London: Routledge, 1993. p. 274
- Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre VIII. Le transfert, 1960-61. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 202
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 16
- Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre XX. Encore, 1972-73. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1975. p. 40
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 732