Jacques-Marie-Émile Lacan (April 13, 1901 – September 9, 1981) was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist. His clinical theory is rooted in the work of Sigmund Freud, and derives from linguistic sources (Ferdinand de Saussure), philosophical sources (Kojève on Hegel), as well as mathematical sources (René Thom, Nicolas Bourbaki, and topological theory of knots).

His central contribution to clinical (psychiatric, psychological, psychotherapeutic) theory was the assertion that language, the spoken language of the human subject, creates the subject. From this understanding Lacan develops his study of psychoanalysis and his treatment strategies. His work, while controversial, continues to influence the development of psychoanalysis worldwide. In France and elsewhere various "schools" of Lacanian thought have emerged. Although there exist various competing emphases on Lacan's work among these "schools", all agree in the fundamental importance of the unconscious. By structuring the options available to any speaking subject in the articulation of his or her desires, the unconscious determines the very fabric of human life as we may come to know it, according to Lacan.


Lacan's life is summarised in a timeline at this page.


Lacan reiterated and clarified Sigmund Freud's findings. In contrast to the dominant Anglo-American ego-psychologists of his time, he considered the ego as constituted in the "other", rather than an internal wholeness. After having obtained a medical degree in psychiatry he settled in Paris, where he worked as a psychoanalyst, primarily with patients suffering from various forms of psychoses.

Lacan argued that the psychoanalytic movement towards understanding the ego as an active and dominating force in the self misinterpreted its Freudian roots. Lacan stated that the self remained in eternal internal conflict and that only extensive self-deceit made the situation bearable.

Lacan also initiated the ideas of the Real, the Imaginary, and the Symbolic, with which he explained the three aspects of human psychic structure. Describing the interaction of this triad, Lacan revised orthodox Freudian ideas about a stable psychic reality. Lacan's notion of the Real is a very difficult concept which he in his later years worked to present in a structured, set-theory fashion, as mathemes. The Imaginary, or non-linguistic aspect of the psyche, formulates human primitive self-knowledge while the Symbolic, his term for linguistic collaboration, generates a community-wide reflection of primitive self-knowledge and creates the very first set of rules that govern behavior.

His developmental theory of the objectified self was inspired by Ferdinand de Saussure's insights into the relationship of the signifier and the signified.

Although Lacan has joined Freud and Melanie Klein as one of the three major figures in the history of psychoanalysis, he made his most significant contributions not in the traditional form of books and journal articles, but through seminar lectures. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, conducted over a period of more than two decades, was not simply transcribed by Jacques-Alain Miller, his son-in-law; Sherry Turkle further claims that Lacan effectively contracted out all work on the seminars to Miller after reviewing his work on the first and that Miller made extensive changes to the seminars to add clarity to the material (Turkle, Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud's French Revolution, p. 254-255). The Seminars are still taken to represent the main body of his thinking. The Seminars may be taken as more intellectually accessible than his published collection of writings, entitled Écrits. Seminar XX remarks that his Écrits were not to be understood, but would produce a meaning effect in the reader similar to some mystical texts. Given the complex provenance of these texts, this remark is extremely difficult to evaluate.

Next Page »