Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lacan's Order of the Real, pleasure, Extimacy, Symptom and the Thing– Summary

According to Lacan's subject theory, the order of the real is everything which resists symbolization and representation in the unconscious. The real according to Lacan is that which resists the dialectical process typical of the symbolic order, in which one signifier is interchangeable with another. The real according to Lacan does not exist as a signifier. Lacan calls this phenomenon, which cannot be symbolized, as the Thing (with a capital T). Lacan's concept of Thing is inspired by Freud's distinction between things which are represented in the unconscious and things that do not.

Since the real for Lacan refers to an existence which cannot be a part of the symbolic order, and therefore cannot be symbolized or conceptualized, it is associated with trauma but also with pleasure, which subverts symbolic bans and aims at achieving the Thing. The real is in a sense pure absence since it is resistant to symbolization. For the same reason the real also lacks nothing.

The real is associated for Lacan with the death drive: the relation between destructive behavior and the obtainment of pleasure. The real is the realm of pure pleasure, which is symbolically castrated by the symbolic order. Lacan essentially talks about two types of subjects, the subject of language and the subject of pleasure, which are not distinct from each other but rather infused.

The need for pleasure is formed according to Lacan at an early state, before language is acquired, and in the context of the initial engagement with the mother which produces satisfaction and frustration at the same time. Following birth, the baby's first and most intimate contact is with the mother, and this is for Lacan as intimate as he is ever going to get with anything. He calls this sensation extimacy.

Extimacy for Lacan is the source or a constant yearning the various forms of imagined unities with ideal "others" (starting from the mother onwards to ideology). The yearning is also for various forms of pleasure which include not only enjoyment but also destruction. This is why the subject cherishes his symptoms and even if he is willing to eventually give it up another one will take its place. Symptom according to Lacan is a creative way to invent excess pleasure in a place which limits pleasure. If identification with the name of the father as a signifier in language has a castrating effect, the symptom allows the subject to reunite the subject with its pleasure. This is why the symptom according to Lacan is not only a subconscious message but also an expression of the real which resists symbolic discipline.
Suggested reading:

Lacan's Subject Theory: The Subject and Language - summary

Lacan's concept of the name of the father and a central signifier of thesymbolic order which replaces the mother as object of desire, leaving a persisting sense of absence, is one of the keys to understanding Lacan's subject theory and why he thought it was constructed of and as language. Through the name of the father the baby enters the realm of signification which constitutes him as a subject. Repressing the Oedipal complex is done through the name of the father, that is language, and this for Lacan means that the subconscious is constructed as language.

To understand the why Lacan argues that the subject is, in a sense, language, we can use the example in which Lacan draws on the work of Roman Jakobson regarding metonyms and metaphors and how he compare them to mental processes in the unconscious like conversion and displacement.

According to Lacan both conversion (the metaphoric function) and displacement (the metonymic function) point to the fact that language itself as an inherent resistance to meaning. According to Lacan, the stable link between signifier and signified, required for the use of language and the construction of the self as a coherent category, is produced by the function of the imaginary which allows for the assignment of signifiers to signifieds and thus limit the endless shifts of signification.

Assigning a relatively fixed signifier to a signified as what enables us to have a relatively coherent sense of reality and of ourselves, and without them Lacan warms that the subject might be "lost" (in two senses) and turn psychotic. On the other hand too many fixed signs might produce fixations in our lives which will deny us the ability to grow, develop and give new meaning to our existence, leading to all sort of mental and emotional problems.

Lacan stresses that the gap between signifier and signified can never be fully bridged, and never fully described or understood. This gap points to the eternal divide between the person speaking (the "I" or "self") and the one being spoken about (the unconscious subject). In language, according to Lacan, we turn alienated from ourselves for the sake of being able to communicate with others.

Suggested reading:

Lacan's "Name of the Father" - summary

"the name of the father" is one of Lacan's central concepts. According to Lacan's Psychoanalytic theory the force which drives us is desire. Desire is always directed at what Lacan call the Big Other or the symbolic order. The big other or symbolic order forms when we exchange objects for words and lose their real presence. This process of symbolization of reality is what allows for communication between people. But language is an outside order which precedes us and therefore, according to Lacan, is always somewhat alien to us. The term "desire" refers to the essential sense of absence which emerges upon entering the symbolic order. The individual can never fully explain himself, he can never be fully understood and his needs fully fulfilled, he can never be in full harmony with the symbolic order and shake away the feeling on constant absence.
According to Lacan desire is directed at many objects during one's life, starting from the mother which is the initial Big Other, moving to the father which is the central figure in the process of entering the symbolic order. Later on in life the role of the Big Other will be assumed by various types of authority and social institutions (Althusser elaborated on this point).

Lacan accepts Freud basic scheme of the Oedipus Complex. But unlike Freud, who thought fear of castration to be driving force in repressing the complex, Lacan argues that the fantasy of the mother in the Oedipal phase is a fantasy about complete pleasure. These fantasies are symbolically castrated upon entering the symbolic order, with castration being the separation from the mother and complete pleasure through the prohibition on incest. Giving up these two fundamental fantasies is crucial for entering the realm of language. The repression of these fantasies is made in order to receive a cental signifier, termed by Lacan as "the name of the father". The name of the father signifies absence and repression, the lack which is the result of repressing the fantasy about the mother.

Lacan's "name of the father" is a symbolic father (which can also be a woman) which is identified with the prohibiting function. This is one of Lacan most important innovations in subject theory, the idea that the subject not only becomes a subject only upon acquiring language and entering the symbolic order, but that he himself is also constructed as language. Under "the name of the father" Lacan imagines the subject's psyche as functioning the same manner language does, for example through metonyms and metaphors.

Suggested reading:

Desire According to Lacan – summary

Desire is one of Lacan's central concepts and he employs it to describe the relation formed upon entering the symbolic order or language. Lacan holds that the first object in a baby's life is not just a source of satisfaction but also of alienage and dissatisfaction and it will therefore remain forever as something which cannot be symbolized (the "thing" which cannot be identified with "the real"). This alienated experience, which originates in an object, is internalized by the subject and becomes private and intimate. Thus alienation and absence become the center of the subject. Lacan explains alienation as the product of the initial necessity to be understood and interpreted by others. The baby according to Lacan "suffers" a long period of dependence in which he cannot sustain his own needs and is dependent upon others. The baby therefore has to express his needs as a claim of demand directed at the Other. By crying the baby signifies his needs and appeals to the other which satisfies his needs. The other's presence therefore takes on an importance for its own sake, and not just as something which satisfies the baby's needs. The other is now love. The baby now cries not only for food or attendance, but also to be loved which comes with the need to be cared for. But the other cannot fully care for the baby, and cannot meet the love demanded of him. And even when needs are met the demand directed towards the other, that asking for love, remains unfulfilled. This insufficiency which can never be fully satisfied is termed by Lacan as desire. Desire is primarily a desire for love.

But even though desire is a relation to something absent, Lacan hold that desire is not necessarily negative. This lack, this absence of love embodies in desire is what according to Lacan drives us for action, creation and recognition. Desire is what drives us.     

Suggested reading on Lacan:

Lacan's Symbolic Order / Big Other - summary

the symbolic order in Lacan's subject theory is also referred to by him as the Big other or simply the Other with a capital O (to distinguish from the other of the imaginary order). Lacan's ideas regarding the symbolic order or the big other are based on the works of de-Saussure, Jakobson, Hegel, Heidegger and Levi-Strauss. Lacan, like Levi-Strauss, held that the social world is constructed through rules designated to regulate various forms of personal relations and exchange. The most basic form of interaction and exchange for Lacan is verbal communication which is the base for Lacan's symbolic order.

Like Freud before him, Lacan attributed great importance to speech during psychoanalytic therapy. Lacan held that the subject is the product of language (Foucault would "upgrade" this definition to the subject being a product of discourse), and therefore argued that spoken language is not only the main instrument of therapy but also the agent which establishes the individual's reality and reality in general. Everything which is beyond language, that cannot be spoken through language, is termed by Lacan as the real.  Language for Lacan points to an inherent absence in it, for it is something that always comes to replace something real. In language we exchange objects for words, thus eliminating objects. It is this process of symbolization which allows for human communication and understanding. The abstraction of language is what enables mutual accord regarding meaning. Therefore language is not just about relaying information, it also has the function of appealing to the other. But since language precedes the individual he experiences it with a sense of alienation. Therefore language for Lacan is the symbolic order or the "big other". The big other or symbolic order for Lacan is universal in that that it originates from outside the person. This "otherness" of language is what allowed Lacan to establish the indevidual's alienation within it.

Suggested reading on and by Lacan:

Lacan's Imaginary Order – explanation and summary

As part of his model of the subject psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan suggested three mutual dependant yet separate orders: the imaginary order, the real order and the symbolic order.

The imaginary order according to Lacan is constituted through the birth of the "I" in what he terms as "the mirror stage" (age 6-18 months). The I of the imaginary order in constituted through vision, as a coherent image that the baby has of himself in the mirror or in the presence of someone else. This coherent image, according to Lacan, is at odds with the baby's motor experience at this stage, which is characterized by a sense of fragmentation. This dissonance, between a coherent image and fragmented sensation, will continue according to Lacan to be a part of the person's life for as long as he or she lives. Much like the baby in the mirror stage, which seeks a unified and coherent image of himself in the mirror, so do adults constantly seek identification with ideas (and not just images) in order to make up for their sense of frustration and aggression that result from lack of coherence and a sense of a fragmented self.

Therefore, the term "imaginary order" takes on a double meaning in Lacan's theory: imaginary in the sense of image, something seen or visualized, and imaginary in the sense of imagination, something which exists in the mind regardless of its existence in real life.

Lacan strongly opposed previous psychoanalytic perceptions of the self, claiming that the self is not a coherent thing that one can point to. The self, for Lacan, is rather a function which points to a failure of the consciousness originating from a basic alienation of the "I" from himself. This means that instead of presenting the self as autonomous the imaginary function constructs it as a product of identification with others. For Lacan, the imaginary order is linked to the manner in which the I is caught up in competitive relations with the other.

Suggested reading on and by Lacan:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Roland Robertson's Concept of Glocalization - definition

In "Glocalization:Time-Space and Homogeneity-Heterogeneity" sociologist Roland Robertson suggests replacing the concept of globalization with the concept of "glocalization". In using "glocalization" rather than globalization Robertson wishes to blur the boundaries between the local and the global. Former views in sociology saw globalization as a contrast between the local and the global as theorized it in terms of action-reaction patterns. Robertson offers instead to see the local itself as one of the aspects of globalization. For example, the search for "home" and "roots" are a counter reaction to globalization but rather a need structured by it.

One of the ramifications of using the term glocalization instead of globalization is that claims of homogeneity of culture under globalization lose ground. Even though intercultural ties are increasingly fastened throughout the world Robertson believes that we are definitely not heading for a united human culture. The reason is that in glocaliztion these ties and influences are selected, processed and consumed according to the local culture's needs, taste and social structure.     

The shift from globalization to glocalization is also a shift in historical perspective. While many researchers position globalization in the second half of the 20th century, Robertson prefers to see it as modern phenomenon which can be traced back to the 19th century and even before, like the rise of the nation state, standardization of time, the emergence of international exhibitions and more. Robertson holds that these examples show how global processes are local processes and vise verse starting already with the 19th century and modernity.

In short, the term glocaliztion means that trends of homogenization and heterogenization coexist throughout the modern age. According to Robertson the use of the term glocalization means that it is local culture which assigns meaning to global influences, and that the two are therefore interdependent and enable each other.

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