Jacques Lacan Biography


Althusser, Louis. “Freud and Lacan.” In Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays. Translated by Ben Brewster. 1971. Reprint. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2001. A seminal Marxist literary theorist discusses Lacanian psychoanalysis and art.

Benvenuto, Bice, and Roger Kennedy. The Works of Jacques Lacan: An Introduction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986. A straightforward, chronologically oriented discussion of Jacques Lacan’s key writings from his early years until his death.

Bowie, Malcolm. “Jacques Lacan.” In Structuralism and Since: From Lévi-Strauss to Derrida, edited by John Sturrock. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1979. This essay provides a brief introduction to Lacan’s thought and is a good place to begin reading about him.

Clark, Michael. Jacques Lacan: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1988. A good guide to the many Lacanian studies, which also contains biographical information and its own introduction to Lacan’s thought.

Evans, Dylan. An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. London: Routledge, 1996. A lucid explanation of many of Lacan’s technical terms, how he came to change them during his career, and some of his influences.

Feldstein, Richard, Bruce Fink, and Maire Jaanus,...

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The literary genre favored by Jacques Marie Émile Lacan (luh-kahn) was the academic lecture, into which he mixed the forms of psychoanalytic discourse, academic rhetoric, philosophy, literary criticism, and poetry. It was largely through the spoken word, both as psychoanalyst and teacher, that Lacan was able to revise radically the status of Sigmund Freud’s writings in French culture, in the discipline of psychoanalysis, and in the practice of literary criticism. Lacan was born in Paris, son of Alfred Lacan, a businessman, and Émilie Baudry. Lacan’s attendance at a Jesuit school for his primary education is blamed by some for the mysticism and obscurity of his later thought. Surrealism, which openly acknowledged its debt to Freud in emphasizing the unconscious sources of artistic production, interested Lacan more than religion; he associated with poets and painters such as Salvador Dalí during his student days, and among his earliest publications were contributions to the Surrealist journal Minotaure. Thus Lacan’s interest in psychiatry, for which he received a doctorate in 1932, seemed to grow out of an interest in artistic and cultural processes rather than an interest in medicine—although he did receive medical training. This conflict of priorities between medical and linguistic theories of the unconscious, always the subject of dissension between Lacan and other analysts, led him to form a secessionist French Psychoanalytic School in 1953.

In the same year, at the meeting of the International Psychoanalytic Society in Rome, Lacan directly confronted both the ego psychologists and the medical personnel with one of his most important lectures, The Language of the Self: The Function of Language in Psychoanalysis. Besides excoriating Lacan’s colleagues, this lecture brings together many of Lacan’s basic ideas: that psychoanalysis is based in the discourse of the patient—or more accurately, in the dialectic between analyst and patient—rather than in his physiology; that the ego is a symptom of rather than a source of strength for the patient; and that three basic orders form the human subject, the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real. Interestingly, the lecture ends with the same quotation from the Upanishads that the poet T. S. Eliot had used to close The Waste Land (1922): “Damyata, Datta, Dayadhvam” (“Submission, Gift, Grace”).

For three decades, Lacan lectured, worked, and trained analysts far from the public eye, at the Hôpital Sainte-Anne in Paris. Several events in the mid-1960’s suddenly made Lacan a household name. First, in 1964, the French Psychoanalytic School, in order to remain within the International Psychoanalytic Society, which was unhappy with Lacan, expelled its cofounder; Lacan responded by forming the École Freudienne de Paris and finding a new lecture hall at the École Normale Superieure, where he began to reach a much broader audience of students,...

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