Lacan and the Alienation of Language

  • Eve Tavor Bannet


‘When you don’t understand what you are being told, don’t immediately assume that you are to blame; say to yourselves — the fact that I don’t understand must itself have a meaning’ (Sem. I, 253). Coming from a teacher who chose to mask his teaching in obscurity and who sardonically assured bewildered readers of his Écrits that he preferred access to his ideas to be ‘difficult’, this observation of Lacan’s to his seminar students carries considerable personal weight. It reminds even practised ears that the art of listening involves understanding not only what is being said, but also the meaning of the barriers erected to prevent ready understanding of what is being said. Like the poetical and rhetorical resources of language which Lacan used so extensively, Lacan’s obscurity and stylistic difficulty are themselves significant statement. They are neither fortuitous nor disconnected from the essence of his ideas because, for Lacan, language is thought, and speech, the man.


Literary Text Ultimate Reality Symbolic Order Cultural Order French Intellectual 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    These quotations are from: Stuart Schneiderman, Jacques Lacan: the death of an intellectual hero (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 1983 );CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anika Lemaire, Jacques Lacan ( London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977 );Google Scholar
  3. Catherine Clément, Vies et Légendes de Jacques Lacan ( Paris: Grasset 1981 ) p. 63–4;Google Scholar
  4. and Sherry Turkle, Psychoanalytic Politics (London, 1979) p. 53, 54. Jane Gallop has gone even further, stating that: ‘After years of study, I have come to believe Lacan’s texts impossible to understand fully, impossible to master — and that is a particularly good illustration of everyone’s inevitable “castration” in language’.Google Scholar
  5. See Jane Gallop, Reading Lacan ( New York. Cornell UP, 1985 ) p. 20.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    For a free exploration and elaboration of the machine paradigm, see Martin Stanton, Outside the Dream: Lacan and French Styles of Psychoanalysis ( London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983 ).Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    For the use of this Zero in and outside Lacan, see Anthony Wilden, System and Structure: Essays in Communication and Exchange ( London: Tavistock, 1972 ).Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    From Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams translated by James Strachey (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1967) p. 107. Freud’s observation that he has not exhausted the meaning of the dream gives Lacan his opening to read into the image of Irma’s gullet and into the term trimethylamin something more and other than Freud reads into it, and he uses it to give the dream a structure which Freud, with his line by line associative analysis, does not attempt to give it. Lacan’s transformations of this dream are already an example of the way he speaks ‘through’ texts (see next section).Google Scholar
  9. For Lacan’s interpretation of the dream in relation to Erik Erikson s classical reinterpretation, of the same dream, see William J. Richardson, ‘Lacan and the Subject of Psychoanalysis’ in Smith and Kerrigan (eds), Interpreting Lacan ( New Haven: Yale UP, 1983 ).Google Scholar
  10. 18.
    Jean Fourastié, Faillite de l’Université? ( Paris: Gallimard, 1972 ) p. 13.Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    See Charles Posner (ed.), Reflections on the Revolution in France: 1968 ( Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970 ) p. 19;Google Scholar
  12. and Patrick Seale and Maureen McConville, French Revolution: 1968 (London: Heinemann, 1968) pp. 215–6. Seale points out that: ‘A tiny revolutionary avant-garde detonated a large-scale, spontaneous movement of student protest. This mass, generating its own dynamic, could only be loosely manipulated by the revolutionary core’ (p. 20). The revolutionary core were students too.Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    Most accessible in Marshall Blonsky (ed.) On Signs ( Oxford: Blackwell, 1985 ) pp. 84–97.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Eve Tavor Bannet 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eve Tavor Bannet
    • 1
  1. 1.University of South CarolinaUSA

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