Difference between revisions of "Symbolic"

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In [[Lacan]]ian [[psychoanalysis]], the "[[symbolic]]" is one of three [[order]]s that [[structure]] [[human]] [[existence]], the others being the [[imaginary]] and the [[real]].
 
In [[Lacan]]ian [[psychoanalysis]], the "[[symbolic]]" is one of three [[order]]s that [[structure]] [[human]] [[existence]], the others being the [[imaginary]] and the [[real]].
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The term "[[symbolic]]" appears in adjectival form in Lacan's earliest psychoanalytic writings.
  
 
The adjectival "[[symbolic]]" is often used by [[Lacan]] in a fairly conventional sense, but in the 1950s he begins to use the word as a substantive, and it rapidly becomes the cornerstone of his theory: the [[subject]]'s relationship with the [[symbolic]] is the heart of [[psychoanalysis]].
 
The adjectival "[[symbolic]]" is often used by [[Lacan]] in a fairly conventional sense, but in the 1950s he begins to use the word as a substantive, and it rapidly becomes the cornerstone of his theory: the [[subject]]'s relationship with the [[symbolic]] is the heart of [[psychoanalysis]].
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It now becomes one of the three [[orders]] that remain central throughout the rest of Lacan's work. Of these three orders, the symbolic is the most crucial one for psychoanalysis; psychoanalysts are essentially 'practitioners of the symbolic function'.<ref>{{E}} p. 72</ref>
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[[Lacan]]'s concept of the [[symbolic|symbolic order]] owes much to the anthropological work of [[Claude Lévi-Strauss]].<ref>[[Claude Lévi-Strauss|Lévi-Strauss, Claude]]. 1949a: 203</ref>
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In particular, [[Lacan]] takes from [[Claude Lévi-Strauss|Lévi-Strauss]] the idea that the social world is structured by certain [[law]]s which regulate kinship relations and the exchange of gifts.
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The concept of the gift, and that of a circuit of exchange, are thus fundamental to Lacan's concept of the [[symbolic]]. <ref>{{S4}} pp. 153-4, 182</ref>
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The change in usage reflects his incorporation into [[psychoanalysis]] of the [[linguistics]] of [[Saussure]] and the [[anthropology]] of [[Mauss]] and [[Lévi-Strauss]].
 
The change in usage reflects his incorporation into [[psychoanalysis]] of the [[linguistics]] of [[Saussure]] and the [[anthropology]] of [[Mauss]] and [[Lévi-Strauss]].
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The term has acquired anthropological overtones, as when Lacan praises Marcel Mauss for having shown that "the structures of society are symbolic".<ref>{{Ec}} p. 132</ref>
  
 
In his work on kinship [[Lévi-Strauss]] argues that any culture can be seen as a set of [[symbolic]] [[structure]]s such as the rules governing kinship and alliance, [[language]] and [[art]].
 
In his work on kinship [[Lévi-Strauss]] argues that any culture can be seen as a set of [[symbolic]] [[structure]]s such as the rules governing kinship and alliance, [[language]] and [[art]].

Revision as of 19:58, 14 September 2006

French: symbolique


In Lacanian psychoanalysis, the "symbolic" is one of three orders that structure human existence, the others being the imaginary and the real.


The term "symbolic" appears in adjectival form in Lacan's earliest psychoanalytic writings.

The adjectival "symbolic" is often used by Lacan in a fairly conventional sense, but in the 1950s he begins to use the word as a substantive, and it rapidly becomes the cornerstone of his theory: the subject's relationship with the symbolic is the heart of psychoanalysis.

It now becomes one of the three orders that remain central throughout the rest of Lacan's work. Of these three orders, the symbolic is the most crucial one for psychoanalysis; psychoanalysts are essentially 'practitioners of the symbolic function'.[1]

Lacan's concept of the symbolic order owes much to the anthropological work of Claude Lévi-Strauss.[2]

In particular, Lacan takes from Lévi-Strauss the idea that the social world is structured by certain laws which regulate kinship relations and the exchange of gifts.

The concept of the gift, and that of a circuit of exchange, are thus fundamental to Lacan's concept of the symbolic. [3]


The change in usage reflects his incorporation into psychoanalysis of the linguistics of Saussure and the anthropology of Mauss and Lévi-Strauss.

The term has acquired anthropological overtones, as when Lacan praises Marcel Mauss for having shown that "the structures of society are symbolic".[4]

In his work on kinship Lévi-Strauss argues that any culture can be seen as a set of symbolic structures such as the rules governing kinship and alliance, language and art.

He also demonstrates that in primitive societies the ritual exchange of gifts has an important role in the creation and perpetuation of social stability.

The application of Saussure's theory of the sign allows these structures and exchanges to be analyzed as exchanges of signifiers.

The emergence of symbolic structures is an essential feature of the human transition from nature to culture.

--

Adapting Lévi-Strauss's study of how kinship rules and exogamy govern exchanges between human groups to the field of psychoanalysis, Lacan now describes the Oedipus complex as a process which imposes symbolic structures on sexuality and allows the subject to emerge.

Pre-oedipal sexuality is likened to a state of nature and unbridled sexuality; the role of the Name-of-the-Father is to disrupt the dual relationship in which the child tries to fuse with the mother in an incestuous union, and to establish a legitimate line of descent ("son of...", "daughter of...").

Culture and the symbolic are thuse imposed upon nature.

The subject gains access to the symbolic, to a name and a lineage, but does so at the cost of a symbolic castration.

Although the exchange of signifiers in speech is an obvious example of symbolic exchange, Lacan's symbolic is not simply synonymous with language, and should be understood as comprising the entire domain of culture.

  1. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 72
  2. Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1949a: 203
  3. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La relation d'objet, 19566-57. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. pp. 153-4, 182
  4. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 132