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the SelfThe Cambridge Companion to LacanThe Challenge for Psychoanalysis and PsychotherapyThe Clinical LacanThe Colonization Of Psychic SpaceThe Condition of MadnessThe Couch and the TreeThe Cruelty of DepressionThe Dissociative Mind in PsychoanalysisThe Dreams of InterpretationThe Examined LifeThe Fall Of An IconThe Freud EncyclopediaThe Freud FilesThe Freud WarsThe Fright of Real TearsThe Future of PsychoanalysisThe Gift of TherapyThe Heart & Soul of ChangeThe Knotted SubjectThe Last Good FreudianThe Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto RankThe Mind According to ShakespeareThe Mystery of PersonalityThe Mythological UnconsciousThe Neuropsychology of the UnconsciousThe New PsychoanalysisThe Power of FeelingsThe Psychoanalytic MovementThe Psychoanalytic MysticThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Puppet and the DwarfThe Real World Guide to Psychotherapy PracticeThe Revolt of the PrimitiveThe Seminar of 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Lacan For BeginnersReview - Lacan For Beginners
by Philip Hill and David Leach
For Beginners, 2009
Review by Gustav Jahoda, Ph.D.
Apr 13th 2010 (Volume 14, Issue 15)

There is currently a vogue for what are known as 'Documentary Comic Books' which boil down difficult subjects into more readily digestible form. Some topics probably lend themselves more readily to this procedure than others, and the oeuvre of Lacan (1901-1981) is definitely on the tough end of the scale. There are several reasons for this: his theories are loosely based on Freudian ones, yet utterly different from classical psychoanalysis; he introduced new terminology, some of which is more or less untranslatable (e.g. jouissance); other neologisms are 'signifiers' for words, or 'motherer' for caretaker. Whatever one might think of Freud's  theory, his writings were  lucid and his style such that prominent contemporary writers put forward his name for the Nobel Prize in literature; but however fluent one's French, Lacan's writing remains obscure. This is partly due to his having incorporated, often in modified form, notions borrowed from other disciplines. Yet, together with Foucault and Derrida he has become a cult figure among intellectuals of  a post-modern persuasion, and his clinical approaches are widely used outside the Anglo-Saxon sphere. Hence the effort to make his ideas more widely known is certainly worth while.

The general message of Lacan, perhaps even more so than that of Freud, is that things are not what they seem to be.  It is not possible to provide a  brief outline of the contents of this book that would make sense, since it is itself a condensed version of a highly complex theory. But an example will perhaps convey the flavour of the arguments. According to the author, Lacan states that 'Desire is always desire for another's desire'. In seeking to explain why this is so, a kind of syllogism is presented:

Desire is expressed symbolically as a type of language, and so is a property of signifiers.  Signifiers are public, communal properties, not belonging to any one individual but to all who use them.  THEREFORE, an individual's desire is always connected to what other people desire, because it is something that belongs to signifiers, which belong to all language users.

Initially this might seem plausible, but if one remembers that 'signifiers' are just 'words', it becomes less persuasive. Has the author misrepresented Lacan by over-simplifying? Having read some Lacan, I do not think that is necessarily the case, since Lacan tends to use that kind of argument. This is not to deny that Lacan does have shrewd insights that often become apparent only on reflection.

This reviewer is hardly competent to judge the extent to which the author presents a faithful picture of Lacan's thought, which itself has undergone considerable changes over time. At any rate the book is intriguing and often amusing, and the clever cartoons help to induce the reader to turn the pages. There is also an index, which is helpful when one tries to make connections. Altogether the author has done an almost impossible job surprisingly well.

 

© 2010 Gustav Jahoda

 

 

Gustav Jahoda, Ph.D. is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. His main fields of interest are cross-cultural and social psychology, especially the development of social cognition. He is the author of A History of Social Psychology (Cambridge University Press).


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