Psychoanalytical Criticism-Summary of The Insistence of Letter in the Unconscious by Lacan

       Psychoanalytical criticism influenced by the tradition of psychoanalysis begun by Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist and the father of psychoanalysis and Carl Gustav Jung, involves psychoanalytical reading of the author or a character. The text is read as it were a kind of dream. The text represses its real ( latest)context behind obvious(manifest) context. The process of changing from the latest to the manifest context is known as the ' dream work', which involves operations of condensation and displacement. The critic analyses language and symbolism of a text to reverse the process of the dream work and arrive at the underlying latent thoughts. Dreams provide the best access to the unconscious mind.

    Psychoanalytic criticism has been revitalised further by Jacquas Lacan , a French theorist, who focused on language and language- related issues. The centrality of language is seminal in his discourse. His Freudian reading primarily involves the realisation that the unconscious is to be understood as intimately tied to the functions and dynamics of language. To Lacan, what is most important in Freudian theory is that the unconscious exists, but that it has a structure.
      Lacan's famous theory of the ' mirror stage' was first presented at a conference. Subsequently his ideas were influenced by figures who successively dominated parisian intellectual life such as the anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss and linguists Ferdinand de Saussure and Roman Jakobson.
     The Insistence of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason since Freud, the most important Lacanian text is an essay originally delivered on May 9, 1957. Lacan begins the essay by giving importance to the intellectual dominance of language studies. Language is central to a psychoanalyst who investigates thr unconscious as he both using and examining language. Lacan presents a new concept about the unconscious which is different from the Freudian one. For Lacan, the unconscious is not a mere chaotic mass of disparate material, but a network as complex as the structure of language. So Lacan concludes that the unconscious is structured like language.
        Lacan formulates  his theory by borrowing certain concepts of Ferdinand Saussure who has  made considerable contribution to the modern language studies.  According to Saussure ,  meaning in language is a matter of contrasts between words and other words, not between words and things. Meaning is a network of differences. There is a perfect barrier between signifier( the word ) and signified( the referent). The relationship between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary and is determined by social conventions. Thus in Saussures sense, meaning is a network of differences. Lacan accepted this arbitrary nature of the linguistic sign and questioned the prioritization of the signified over the signifier. Lacan dismisses the usual Saussurean illustration of the functioning of the sign , that is , the picture of a tree and replaces it with another.
       Lacan demonstrates the built- in separation between the signifier and the signified,
with a picture indicating two identical lavatory doors, one headed ' Ladies', the other ' Gentlemen'. This purports to show that the same signifier may have different signifieds. The doors are identical, so what distinguishes one toilet door from the other is nothing but the signifier above the doors . Therefore  Lacan preposes to reverse the priority Saussure bestowed upon the signified in the signifier- signified relationship.Lacan's reformation can be represented as: Signifier/signified. The capitalized  ' Signifier' takes precedence over the signified and the 'bar' between the two elements symbolize its fundamental division. The 'bar' functions as a barrier to meaning.
  If we try to define the meaning of a specific word or concept, for example, we can only do so through other words; we are caught in the continual process of producing signs. The schematic representation of the language system could therefore be rewritten as:
     As Peter Barry comments, " words and meanings have a life of their own and constantly override and obscure the supposes simplicities and clarity of external reality".
           Signification is always a process- a chain. None of its elements actually consist of the meaning or meaning is not fixed, or as Lacan puts it, there is an incessant sliding of the signified under the signifier. Lacan, however is not suggesting that there is no fixed meaning at all. There are what he called ' anchor points' or ' points de caption', where this sliding of the signified under the signifier stops and allows for stable signification.
        Lacan argues that the ' dream work' mechanisms identified by Freudan ' condensation' and ' displacement' correspond to the basic poles of language identified by the linguist Roman Jakobson, that is to ' metaphor' and ' metonymy'. In metonymy, one thing represents another by means of the part standing for the whole. So twenty sail becomes twenty ships. In Freudian dream interpretation an element in a dream might stand for something else by displacement. So a person might be represented by one of their attributes, for instance, an Italian lover might be represented in a dream by an Alfa Romeo Car. Lacan says that this is the same as metonymy, the part standing for the whole. In condensation, several things might be compressed into one symbol . The use by the unconscious of these linguistic means of self-expression is part of Lacan's evidence for the claim that the unconscious is structured like a language.


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