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In other words, the man who is born into existence deals first with language; this is a given. He is even caught in it before his birth. [From an interview with Jacques Lacan. L'Express. May 1957.]
Unborn babies everywhere, heed my words: You don't know it yet, but you are trapped in the Symbolic Order. If this sounds like a House of Horrors, it sort of is, but with language and speech and words and that whole mess.
So here's how I roll: human beings aren't born speaking (and if parents persist in using that gibberish baby talk, humans would never learn to talk). Babies are born and then they learn stuff, by doing things like sticking their fingers in an electrical outlet, or eating dirt. What happens when babies do these things? Their parents lecture them even if there is no way they understand what the 'rents are actually, you know, saying.
Welcome to the world of words! But here's the crazy part: it may be hard to learn the lesson not to put your finger in the socket, but it's even harder to get what all that lecturing is about. Let's review: You're born. You have already entered the Symbolic Order (the wonderful world of words). You get a lecture that you don't understand. Once you acquire all of those words, you can understand the lectures and express your feelings. (Yay!) But that also means you'll get lectured and nagged for the rest of your life. (Boo!)
It is up to you to be Lacanians if you so wish […] I am a Freudian. [Quoted in Lacan and the Human Sciences, ed. Alexandre Leupin. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991. p. 16]
So here's the skinny: throughout my many years as a psychoanalyst, I've been a real renegade. I make enemies and take no prisoners. In 1953 and 1964 especially, I got extremely hot under the collar when I recognized that some folks—specifically Anna Freud and company, were showing disloyalty to many of Freud's fundamental discoveries. Not good. And then they all ganged up on me. Also not good.
So I've started new groups and gotten kicked out and started new groups and gotten kicked out and started… well, you get the picture. But this whole stinking time I've been nothing but loyal to Freud. Other people just don't see it that way. I guess I just keep finding myself at odds with everyone and anyone who believes that analysis is successful only when the patient straightens up and obeys society's demands. So repressive, right?
The use of the Symbolic is the only way for the analytic process to cross the plane of identification. [From Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis]
Guys, I'm starting to feel like major psychoanalytic schools are making psychoanalysis all about the Imaginary order (made up of images, imagination, and deception) at the expense of the Symbolic (language and other stuff) or The Real. And that's Not Cool.
I knew they were up to no good when they started making identification with the analyst the purpose of analysis. Hey, what about using the Symbolic to hack through our fixations in the Imaginary? In other words, let's have the analyst transform images into language. Seriously, guys, the analyst must use language to escort the patient through the minefield of identification. Any other method is just plain old codswallop.
For the total form of his body, by which the subject anticipates the maturation of his power in a mirage, is given to him only as a gestalt, that is, in an exteriority in which, to be sure, this form is more constitutive than constituted […] [From Écrits]
Let's get back to that baby looking in the mirror (see "The Mirror Stage"). Cute as this scene may be, it is also profoundly meaningful and likely totally traumatizing. When that baby sees himself in the mirror, he sees his total body—a figure that is greater than the sum of its parts. So it's not like "oh, I've got two legs, two arms, a tummy, etc." It's this body that's all whole and meaningful and usually darn cute.
If this baby example doesn't grab you, consider the difference between a house and a home—they look the same, but one is full of meaning (I grew up there; I used to climb out that window; my dad screamed at me in that garage), and the other has bedrooms, a kitchen, blah-de-blah.
Anyway, back to the baby: He will always aspire to regain that feeling of wholeness he saw in the mirror (don't we all?)—but no go. Along with wisdom teeth, it's one of life's great bummers.