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Lacan And Seminar XX

The Letter, Issue 16, Summer 1999, Pages 78 - 91


Pauline O'Callaghan

It has been argued that since Lacan's concept of the symbolic order is phallocentric and structured according to the law of the father, that it represses the 'truly feminine,’ and defines femininity in patriarchal terms as a consequence of lack.[1] Whilst for the male child the entrance into the symbolic Order is characterised bv his identity with the father or the Phallus, for the female child the experience is a negative one and characterised by her identification with lack. Lacan's theory on the development of women remains a penis-envy theory, according to Elizabeth Grosz, although he uses social, unconscious, and linguistic explanations of the oedipal structure, in place of Freud's phylogenetic, pseudobiological ones.[2]

However, it is clear from Lacan's work, with its innumerable references to the subject as 'fading', 'alienated!, marked by an essential 'lack of being', 'split', possessed of an 'empty centre', etc., that the idea of lack’ is not confined to femininity. Psychoanalysis is based on a fundamental split between the subject and the knowledge he has of himself. Lacan's theory of the 'mirror stage' (1936) showed that all notions of unity and absolute autonomy were mere illusions. The human subject will continue throughout life to look for an imaginary wholeness’ and 'unity'. There is thus a fundamental 'alienation' in this action.[3] It is within this context that one must consider Lacan's view of women as being not- whole', not existing, and so on, rather than simply regarding it as phallocentric or misogynistic.

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