Magazine for Sexuality and Politics

The Other in Lacan

Susanne Schade

There have throughout the years been discussions about the term of “the other” in Lacanian theory. And whilst the young and middle-aged Lacan was very skilled at writing and delivering talk, the Lacan of later years became too arcane and was often very wrong even. It most often is that Lacanians are referring to Lacan's early texts rather than to the subsequent ones he authored, and there might in fact be a quite good reason for this.

Lacan’s greatest achievement was establishing the theoretical concepts of "the mirror phase" and of “the other”. It is, thereby, pointless to stress that Lacan’s theories reflect much of his French and specifically Parisian environment as it presented itself during his lifetime. It also were needless to doubt that right at the time those particular humans imbued with French culture and able to afford psychoanalysis all came from the upper class of society, be it the upper class in economic terms or else the aristocratic upper class.

But back to "the mirror phase": though at this stage the child recognizes itself, it only does so by means of cultural appropriation of the world. Making use of cultural artefacts, like language, signs, and symbols, the child recognizes itself in the mirror. What then ensues is quite crucial, since the child actually distances itself from itself proper. Thus, a forsaken part will remain: “the other” and the newly-initiated ego formation, that is. It is a bit as if the child had lost itself, since it can recognize itself only with the help of parent language.

In psychoanalysis this often is hard to detect in patients who desire something, long for something, yet without knowing what they are looking for exactly. They are drawn into an endless circle of longing, of searching and of never finding themselves. Some of them end up travelling the world not aware of what they are looking for, but surely they are longing for something.

Now, patients in psychoanalysis can in a more anthropological sense and in a humanistic way develop a language that would help them discover that forsaken part of themselves: “the other”. The language of upper classes is by no means suitable for such an endeavor, as that type of idiom does always neglect the hidden and not accessible layer of one's personality. Has the patient, by contrast, attained access to this hidden part in question, the forgotten part of the self, as it were, next to the ego formation that has taken place previously, joined there by the hidden self, the patient can feel as a more holistic personality. From this point on, the practical existence of the human being displays its full potential that was held down

before. Patients can furthermore much more sensitively interact with their environment. All in all, the great uncertainty in relation to human existence (which some patients carry throughout their lives) can be erased. As a result, patients find themselves enabled to better and in a really sensitive manner get along with the world around them, to establish emotional and sustained relationships, to fall in love, and to warm-heartedly and kindly treat other people.

Jacques Lacan, Wikipedia, 2024

Dom Fou, unsplash, 2024

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