Study Guide

Jacques Lacan Introduction

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Jacques Lacan Introduction

Fasten your seatbelts and put your seatbacks and tray tables in the full upright and locked position, because you're gonna need all the help you can get to grasp the Psychoanalytic Industrial Complex that is Jacques Lacan, the bigwig of French psychiatry. (Freud was Austrian, so pull it together).

Let it first be known that Lacan coined a lot of phrases and used complicated language to describe various psychological phenomena (mirror phase, objet, The Real, The Thing… yadda yadda yadda). Plus—bonus!—Monsieur Lacan was considered very controversial, even scandalous at times.

Think of Lacan as the Johnny Rotten of the Psychiatry World. First, there was that whole abolishing the Freudian School of Psychology in Paris thing. Sure, that hardly sounds like a high crime against humanity to most of us, but trust Shmoop—a whole lot of French intellectuals got their knickers in a twist over this move. But hey, Lacan had good intentions. He was worried that people had gone too far from the true Freud. Heaven forbid.

Then there's the fact that Lacan was so radical that he and his peeps got booted out of the International Psychoanalytical Association for "deviant practices." We know that sounds straight up pervy, but it really came down to the fact that he didn't believe that 50-minute sessions were fundamental to analysis. He was more into this whole psychotherapy-as-speed-dating thing where ten, five, or even three minutes on the analytical couch would do just fine.

Sadly, explaining his theories would be impossible to squeeze into a Lacanian-length therapy sesh. So for now we'll just state his basic premise: Lacan's thing was that learning to talk was the crucial event of childhood. Once a kid gets to yakking, he has to parrot what society tells him to say and bottle up all of the ideas he had before he could talk.

Guess what happens when that little kid does a really good job of holding those ideas inside? That's right: he gets himself a nice little mental illness—psychosis, if he's lucky. And that's where the psychoanalyst comes in: he's there to decipher all of that stuff held in from the pre-language phase. And that, ladies and gents, is Lacanian therapy in a nutshell.

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