By: Krithik Seela
Jacques Lacan was a French psychoanalyst philosopher whose main works and ideas were developed throughout the 1900s. He revolutionized the field of psychoanalysis while also building on ideas of previous psychoanalysts such as Sigmund Freud.
What did Lacan believe?
Lacan’s main works centered around the conceptualization of a triad known as the Real, the Imaginary, and the Symbolic. The purpose of this triad was to illustrate the dimensions of psychical subjectivity. The Real represents objective reality – the raw concepts that we do not have the ability to fully capture or represent through ideas like language or other “signifiers.” The Symbolic is our reality, encompassing the world and its structure. An important feature of the Symbolic is language – one of the main features of reality and a key aspect of Lacan’s philosophy. Through the Symbolic also emerges the concept of the “lack” and its relation to desire. According to Lacan, we always desire something, and need an object to direct this desire towards. Since these objects – aspects in the Real – can never be fully captured by us through processes such as language, our desires can never be fulfilled and we will always be lacking something. Finally, the imaginary is an extension of the Symbolic. When we imagine something, we create future images and use different signifiers to capture these imaginary ideas.
Another tenet of Lacan’s philosophy is the relationship between needs, drives, and desires. Needs are requirements such as food, and drives are our demands towards desire. Lacan says that a main reason that we are linguistic is because we need to communicate our drives and express our desires, so if linguistics are unable to capture the Real, our articulation of the need suffers from not being able to fully capture what we want. This creates a structure of incompleteness whereby we are always incomplete because of our attempts to articulate ourselves through this desire. Through this, we become stuck in a constant drive of desiring completeness. This explanation of desire and drives carries over to Lacan’s explanation and analysis of identity. Lacan explains that as children grow up, they are constantly being exposed to these relationships of need, drives, and desires. As they progress in their development, children need to be able to articulate their needs to others, and as they grow older, they get introduced to concepts such as language. Because of this, they also get stuck in this cycle of desire and are exposed to the Lacanian triad.
How can this be applied?
Although Lacan’s psychoanalytic theories can be complex, his theory about drives and desires are applicable to many real-world scenarios.
The idea of incompleteness and desire can tell us something important about the way that we ought to orient ourselves to desire and about the importance of living in the moment – to express gratitude for what you have instead of constantly wanting more. It’s human nature for one to want what she doesn’t have, but it’s important to avoid falling into the trap that Lacan explains. Instead, we must appreciate the present for all it is and not let this incompleteness define how we live our lives.
Krithik Seela is a rising junior in high school and entering his fourth year as a member of his school's Lincoln Douglas Debate team. He will be an associate captain next year.
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