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Philip Reynor

Philosophy: JS5 Essay No.2

29/11/05

Compare and contrast the Ego and the Subject. Is the subject an individual person in any way?

Philip Reynor

Philosophy: JS5 Essay No.2

29/11/05

The Lacanian subject is one of the most remarkable albeit counter-intuitive concepts in the history of psychoanalysis. The concept of a subject is something with which we are all familiar as an individual, a patient or a conscious being; however, none of these idiosyncrasies distinguishes the Lacanian subject as such. The protean nature and evanescent qualities of the Lacanian subject render its location nonspecific as, for Lacan, the subject can merely be supposed and therefore its location in the ego is not demonstrable. The Freudian ego, on the other hand, is also a manifold concept responsible for a wide range of behaviour that runs the gamut from the conscious to the unconscious and unlike Lacans subject is demonstrable. However, the Freudian ego is not as simple as it first appears and, on examination, there are faucets of its persona that can be paralleled directly with the Lacanian subject. Both of these concepts are fundamental to psychoanalysis, and principally to the work Freud and Lacan two giants of the psychoanalytic community. I intend to compare and contrast not ego and subject but Freudian ego and Lacanian subject and in doing so hope to uncover some insight into the subjects individuality, if such a thing is possible. I believe it to be propitious to contrast two definite concepts rather then concepts that have taken on heterogeneous meaning throughout this century and within this contrast believe more profound insights await. I will begin with an exposition of Lacans thought beginning with The Mirror Phase and will attempt to

Philip Reynor

Philosophy: JS5 Essay No.2

29/11/05

layer this with comparisons and contrasts with Freuds work as they arise in the hope that within these contrasts will lie a road to a better understanding of individuality. Movements from structuralism to poststructualism have excluded the existence of a subject and rendered the very concept of subjectivity taboo. Nevertheless, Lacan was one of the few who defended both structure and subjectivity, yet in doing so, it was necessary to undress the subject of the qualities familiar to Western thinkers by entangling it in the workings of structure1. We can see this clearly in what Lacan calls The Mirror Phase2 in the psychological development of the child. This landmark event occurs in the early stages of a childs development from about 6-18 months and is the first stepping-stone towards subjectivity. In typical Lacanian fashion, the first sign of subjectivity is a lack understood as an empty space in the symbolic order3 where the subject should but fails to reside. This is evident after the assimilation of language and alienation of the subject therein, where the subject is split into conscious ego (false or Other self-image) and the unconscious (functioning of language as Other). The split inevitably draws the two into conflict precipitated by the ego or false being requiring a refusal of unconscious thoughts, unconscious thought having no concern whatsoever for the egos fine opinion of itself.4 Thus, Lacan views the conflict as between two forms of Otherness, the subject being the inevitable looser as it is forced into choosing its own demise. This Otherness or external influence will be a constant barrier in the struggle for the individual self. For Freud melancholia is related to an object-loss in which there is an inhibition and circumscription of the ego5 which could be regarded as an alienation of the ego within itself. This would be formulated, in Lacanian terminology, as a loss of the Other as desire from which the trauma of melancholia arises until a new desire is formed with object a thanks to the workings of jouissance, all of which will be explained in more detail later on. When the melancholia has run its course, finding a new object a the ego becomes free and uninhibited again6. This is an interesting
1 2

Similar to what Bruce Fink says in his book The Lacanian Subject; p.36. Lacan, J; Ecrits; chapter on the The Mirror Phase. 3 The symbolic order within language and its connections in the unconscious. 4 Fink, B; The Lacanian Subject; p.45. 5 Freud, S; Mourning and Melancholia, p.244. 6 Ibid, p.245.

Philip Reynor

Philosophy: JS5 Essay No.2

29/11/05

state for the present discussion as in the melancholic we are shown the ego divided, fallen apart into two pieces, one of which rages against the second7. One fraction of the ego now takes the other as object and harshly abases it; displaying a new agency within the ego which will soon reveal its independence in the shape of the super-ego or ego ideal. Now, from where the subject bowed down and chose its own demise there is a lack, an empty space, within the structural order and this lack is the first guise of the subject giving it a possibility of being, a possibility of filling this space. Preceding the mirror phase there was no chance of being for the subject. This all changes when the child identifies its image in a mirror8 an image that is Other then the subject itself, thus a false or inverted image. Prior to this stage, the child viewed itself as a fragmented body, identification giving unity to this turbulent self-image. This unity informs the child, enables further identifications with the Other, signalling the advent of the ego and the first stages in the Oedipus complex, yet also giving stability and thus forming defence mechanisms. Here arises a second point of interest between the work of Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud, and that of Lacan. For identification also plays a pivotal role for Freud, being the earliest expression of an emotional tie with another person 9, or in Lacanian terminology anOther person. Likewise, in the writing of Anna Freud we get more similarities concerning identifications with aggressors that enable defence mechanisms.10 All these identifications are external and can be seen as playing a part in the early development of the Oedipus complex. For Freud the identifications are essential to the formation of the sexual object-cathexis necessary for the dawn of the Oedipus complex. Similarly, Lacan holds that when the subject recognizes his mOther as a desiring subject, and hence a lacking subject, he attempts to introject his lack onto the mOther and thus become her sole object of desire creating a mOther-child unity. These identifications with Other and external influences are crucial to the
7 8

Freud, S; Group Psychology, chapter VII on Identification, p.109. This being the paradigm example of identification in the mirror phase. 9 Freud, S; Group Psychology, chapter III on Identification, p.109. 10 Freud, A; The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence, chapter VIII on Identification with the Agressor, she demonstrates two forms of identification a) identification through imitation, b) identification with the anger itself exemplified in displays of aggression. These can be seen as what Lacan calls identification with the Other.

Philip Reynor

Philosophy: JS5 Essay No.2

29/11/05

development of the child11, nevertheless, they also form a concrete barrier that prevents the development of an individual. How can individuality jump into the Freudian and Lacanian theories when all influences and driving forces are objective? Now, when the child realises that he can never attain his goal and become the sole object of the mOthers desire a breakdown in the mOther-child unity ensues. The initial separation between subject and Other leads to the eventual and inevitable breakdown of the Other. This can be read in Freudian terms as the dissolution of the Oedipus complex and the destruction of the sexual object-cathexis towards the mother. In addition, in both of these dissolutions we have futher influences from and identifications with anOther. In Lacan the identification with a father figure as an object of the mOthers desire from which the child realises he cannot solely fill the mOthers lack and in Freud the breakdown arises with the threat and fear of castration caused by anOther. This breakdown has a traumatic effect on the child that actually functions as the childs cause: the cause of his or her advent as subject and of the position the child adopts as subject in relation to the Others desirethe subject coming to be as a defence against traumatic experience.12 The relevance of all this to the present discussion lies in the fact that at this point of Lacans analysis the subject as such is born and its being established through a renewed relationship with the real and by filling the empty space in the symbolic order I mentioned earlier. The subjects being is fixed through jouissance. Jouissance substitutes for the lost mother-child unity thus maintaining an illusion of wholeness after the breakdown of the Other by forming a relationship with an object a. The object a is a fantasy positioning of subject in terms of Others desire (an excitement involving pleasure or pain as the subject casts the Others desire in the role most exciting to the subject13) which functions as the cause of the childs desire14 thus reuniting the subject with the real and granting him a place in the symbolic order. Prior to his alienation within the Other the child had a real and unmediated relationship with the mother, now the subject has being as desire the object a arousing this desire. Similarly, in Freuds formulation we observe the
11

If the child rejects the Other, according to both Freud and Lacan, a psychosis will ensue with the child. 12 Fink, B; The Lacanian Subject; p.63. 13 Ibid; p.61. 14 Ibid p.59.

Philip Reynor

Philosophy: JS5 Essay No.2

29/11/05

advent of the super-ego rising from the ashes of the broken object-cathexis through identification with the authority of the father figure. The remarkable thing being that in this simplified explication both psychoanalysts have journeyed along the same path to arrive at this juncture. Identifications with the Other are forwarded in both cases as causes for the split subject and split ego and identifications have initiated Oedipus complex and dissolved it by breaching the mother-child unity or sexual objectcathexis with the mother. Following this the subject is given being and the super-ego arises. But is there any real connection between the two and at this stage can we say that the subject is in any sense an individual? Has Lacan or Freud left any space that has not been infested by the Others influence? Let us see what Freud has to say, by way of definition of the super-ego, ego and id we have already noted that the outcome of the sexual phase dominated by the Oedipus complex may, therefore, be taken to be the forming of a precipitate in the egoas ego ideal or super-ego. He carries on noting that the ego ideal had the task of repressing the Oedipus complex; indeed, it is to that revolutionary task that it owes its existence.15 Whereas the ego is essentially a representation of the external world, of reality, the super-ego stands in contrast to it as the representative of the internal worldThe ego forms its super-ego out of the id. Freud also explains that the ego is a specially differentiated part of the id16 and is responsible for all external representations of the external world to the id. Therefore, if there is such a thing as an individual the ego and its associates must embody it, ranging as they do from conscious to unconscious and taking responsibility for the external and internal worlds. However, all these workings of the mind are aided, initiated and mediated by outside external influences to which I have already alluded. The super-ego itself being born through the complex relations and identifications formed between ego, id and the outside world. The id may try to claim individuality or subjectivity as it is cut off from external influence, not so, thanks to the egos mediation between the two the claims of the id are quashed. Likewise, the Lacanian subject can never be hailed as an individual. Its very existence is sustained by outside influences commencing with the mirror phase and
15 16

Freud, S; The Ego and the Id; chapter III, p.34. Freud, S; The Ego and the Id; chapter III, p.38.

Philip Reynor

Philosophy: JS5 Essay No.2

29/11/05

continuing beyond its emergence as a subject with being. Some may say that if the subject has being it must be an individual again, not so, the being that Lacan attributes to his subject is mediated by its reliance on jouissance and its relationship to an object a. As I mentioned earlier it is a being as desire, a desire for Otherness, which fills the void and maintains the illusion of wholeness after the breakdown of the mOther-child unity. The Lacanian subject is literally a subject in the monarchical sense of the word, a subject to all outside influences, to all Others, forming tight bonds with the Other and relying on the Other for its very being thus negating its chances at individuality. Therefore, even though there is a relationship between the Freudian ego and Lacanian subject through the development of the individual subject from childhood neither is capable of grasping that sought after individuality, that pure essence of being, as the two theories cannot compliment each other in a way that will bear the fruit of individuality. So, are we all doomed as nondividuals to flounder in constant exchanges with Others always seeking but never finding our true selves? No, the individual must reside somewhere in our being, somewhere that lies outside them realm of linguistic constraint, outside those sensory perceptions, Otherness and immobility; and concurrently operating in unconscious through to conscious thought processes. Our world hampers us with Otherness and tries to guide our hand in every aspect of our daily lives, as the mind instinctively knows that this course is the safest if we wish to successfully navigate our lifespan. Regardless of these tremendous obstacles, there must remain a place for the individual that can declare responsibility for our creativity and our originality of thought; if we had only the Other to look to, advancement would be rendered impossible. Yet advancement is the benchmark of our society. The dominion of the individual subject, unencumbered with Otherness, is what we should be seeking in our investigations and introspections. It has been demonstrated that this dominion cannot be reached through scrutiny of Freudian ego or Lacanian subject, it is not a point or an isolation that can be extracted and subjected to analysis as a movement cannot be superimposed on immobility or it would then coincide with it, which would be a contradiction17. Our individuality must constitute a movement, something which we can only intuit as a unity, divested of all familiar traits and words its being residing in the unconscious and slipping into consciousness in order
17

Bergson, H; An Introduction to Metaphysics; p.42.

Philip Reynor

Philosophy: JS5 Essay No.2

29/11/05

to inspire our regular mundane egoistic thoughts with creativity and originality. Our individuality as movement is indivisible and as a result, analysis has failed to discover it taking as it does moments or points and therefore being unable to intuit the whole. Individuality can manifest itself in points of creativity but taking these points in isolation and analysing them will not lead us to an understanding of the whole; just as taking a picture of the doorway of a room will not give us a feeling for the space within having never been inside. However, having been inside, the picture of the door may lead us to our original feeling for the room. This also stands as an exemplar for our intuition of the individual, we can move from our intuition of our individuality to points of creativity but these points can never lead us back to an understanding of individuality. At this point in our search, analysis of the subject is useless unless we have looked into ourselves first and intuited our own individuality. Until then our individuality is naked, blind and deaf, a wraith unseen but not unnoticed moving undetected through the mind, creating.

Bibliography:
Bergson, H; An Introduction to Metaphysics; Trans: Hulme, T.E; Hackett Publishing Co. (Cambridge 1999).

Philip Reynor

Philosophy: JS5 Essay No.2

29/11/05

Fink, B; The Lacanian Subject; Princeton University Press (Chester 1995). Freud, A; The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence; Trans: Baines, C ; Internalional Universities Press (Madison 1996). Freud, S; Group Psychology; Complete Works, standard ed, Trans: Strachey, J; Volume XVIII, Hogarth Press (London 1955). Freud, S; Mourning and Melancholia; Complete Works, standard ed, Trans: Strachey, Volume XIV, J; Hogarth Press (London 1957). Freud, S; On Identification; Complete Works, standard ed, Trans: Strachey, J; Hogarth Press (London 1957). Freud, S; The Ego and the Id; Complete Works, standard ed, Trans: Strachey, J; Volume XIX, Hogarth Press (London 2001). Freud, S; The Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex; Complete Works, standard ed, Trans: Strachey, J; Hogarth Press (London 2001). Lacan, J; Ecrits, Trans: Sheridan, A; Norton (New York 1977). Lacan, J; The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychanalysis; Hogarth Press (London 1977). Muller, J; Lacan and Language: a readers guide to Ecrits; International Universities Press (New York 1982).