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The Imaginary

The Imaginary

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The Imaginary order is one of a triptych of terms in the psychoanalytic
Psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis is a psychological theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis has expanded, been criticized and developed in different directions, mostly by some of Freud's former students, such as Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav...

 theory of Jacques Lacan
Jacques Lacan
Jacques Marie Émile Lacan was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who made prominent contributions to psychoanalysis and philosophy, and has been called "the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud". Giving yearly seminars in Paris from 1953 to 1981, Lacan influenced France's...

, along with the symbolic
The Symbolic
The Symbolic is a part of the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan, part of his attempt 'to distinguish between those elementary registers whose grounding I later put forward in these terms: the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real - a distinction never previously made in psychoanalysis'.-The...

 and the real
The Real
The Real refers to that which is authentic, the unchangeable truth in reference both to being/the Self and the external dimension of experience, also referred to as the infinite and absolute - as opposed to a reality based on sense perception and the material order.-In psychoanalysis:The Real is a...

. Each of the trio of terms emerged gradually over time, and underwent an evolution during the development of Lacan's thought. 'Of these three terms, the "imaginary" was the first to appear, well before the Rome Report of 1953...[when t]he notion of the "symbolic" came to the forefront'. Indeed, looking back at his intellectual development from the vantage point of the Seventies, Lacan epitomised it as follows: 'I began with the Imaginary, I then had to chew on the story of the Symbolic...and I finished by putting out for you this famous Real'.

Accordingly, 'Lacan's work is often divided into three periods: the Imaginary (1936–1952), the Symbolic (1953–1962), and the Real (1963–1981)'. During the first of these, 'Lacan regarded the "imago" as the proper study of psychology and identification as the fundamental psychical process. The imaginary was then the...dimension of images, conscious or unconscious, perceived or imagined'; and it was in the decade or two following his delivery of Le stade du miroir at Marienbad in 1936 that Lacan's concept of the Imaginary was most fully articulated.

The Imaginary order


The basis of the Imaginary order is the formation of the ego
Id, ego, and super-ego
Id, ego and super-ego are the three parts of the psychic apparatus defined in Sigmund Freud's structural model of the psyche; they are the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity and interaction mental life is described...

 in the "mirror stage
Mirror stage
The mirror stage is a concept in the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. Philosopher Raymond Tallis describes the mirror stage as "the cornerstone of Lacan’s oeuvre."...

"; by articulating the ego in this way 'the category of the imaginary provides the theoretical basis for a long-standing polemic against ego-psychology' on Lacan's part. Since the ego is formed by identifying with the counterpart or specular image, "identification" is an important aspect of the imaginary. The relationship whereby the ego is constituted by identification is a locus of "alienation", which is another feature of the imaginary, and is fundamentally narcissistic
Narcissism
Narcissism is a term with a wide range of meanings, depending on whether it is used to describe a central concept of psychoanalytic theory, a mental illness, a social or cultural problem, or simply a personality trait...

: thus Lacan wrote of 'the different phases of imaginary, narcissistic, specular identification - the three adjectives are equivalent' - which make up the ego's history.

If 'the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real are an unholy trinity whose members could as easily be called Fraud, Absence and Impossibility', then the Imaginary, a realm of surface appearances which are inherently deceptive, is Fraud.

The fragmented body


For Lacan, the driving-force behind the creation of the ego as mirror-image was the prior experience of the phantasy of the fragmented body. 'Lacan was not a Kleinian, though he was the first in France...to decipher and praise her work', but 'the threatening and regressive phantasy of "the body-in-pieces"...is explicitly related by Lacan to Melanie Klein's paranoid position'. Klein's 'specific phantasy...that something inside the person is seeking to pull him apart and render him dead by dismemberment' fuelled for Lacan 'the succession of phantasies that extends from a fragmented body-image...to the assumption of the armour of an alienating identity' - to the ego as other-identification, as "Fraud".

The Imaginary and the Symbolic


With the increasing prominence of the Symbolic in Lacan's thought after 1953, the Imaginary becomes viewed in a rather different light, as structured by the symbolic order
The Symbolic
The Symbolic is a part of the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan, part of his attempt 'to distinguish between those elementary registers whose grounding I later put forward in these terms: the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real - a distinction never previously made in psychoanalysis'.-The...

. It is still the case that 'the body in pieces finds its unity in the image of the other...[or] its own specular image' but no longer does 'analysis consist in the imaginary realisation of the subject...to make it well-rounded, this ego, to...have definitely integrated all its disjointed fragmentary states, its scattered limbs, its pregenital phases, its partial drives'. Instead, 'one finds a guide beyond the imaginary, on the level of the symbolic plane'.

It also became apparent that the imaginary involves a linguistic dimension: whereas the signifier
Sign (linguistics)
There are many models of the linguistic sign . A classic model is the one by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. According to him, language is made up of signs and every sign has two sides : the signifier , the "shape" of a word, its phonic component, i.e...

 is the foundation of the symbolic, the "signified" and "signification" belong to the imaginary. Thus language has both symbolic and imaginary aspects: 'words themselves can undergo symbolic lesions and accomplish imaginary acts of which the patient is the subject....In this way speech may become an imaginary, or even real object'.

To the Lacan of the fifties, 'the entire analytic experience unfolds, at the joint of the imaginary and the symbolic', with the latter as the central key to growth - 'the goal in analysizing neurotics is to eliminate the interference in symbolic relations created by imaginary relations...dissipating imaginary identifications'. The Imaginary was the problem, the Symbolic the answer, so that 'an entire segment of the analytic experience is nothing other than the exploration of blind alleys of imaginary experience'. Thus it is 'in the disintegration of the imaginary unity constituted by the ego that the subject finds the signifying material of his symptoms' - the 'identity crisis...[when] the false-self system disintegrates'.

The Imaginary in the late Lacan


Just as the early predominance of the Imaginary was eclipsed after the Rome Report, so too by the end of the Sixties the Symbolic in turn would increasingly come to play second fiddle to the Real, as from 'this point on, Lacan downplays the Oedipus complex, seen as a mythical - and so imaginarized - version of unconscious organization'.

Nevertheless, Lacan could still claim that the 'objective of my teaching...is to dissociate...what belongs to the imaginary and...what belongs to the symbolic'. In the Borromean knots
Borromean rings
In mathematics, the Borromean rings consist of three topological circles which are linked and form a Brunnian link, i.e., removing any ring results in two unlinked rings.- Mathematical properties :...

, he considered he had found a possible topological counterpart to the interconnections of Imaginary, Symbolic, and Real. 'Lacan's seminar was at times now little more than a silent demonstration of the properties of the interlocking knots which illustrated the imbrication of the real, the symbolic and the imaginary'.

The Imaginary and French culture


Use for the imaginary of 'the adjective as a noun can...be traced to the works of the novelist Andre Gide...[and] was probably given greater currency by [Sartre's] L'Imaginaire '. In Lacan's hands, the Imaginary came close to being an omnivorously colonising interpretive machine: thus Rene Girard regretted that 'To the Lacanian, whatever I call mimetic must correspond to..."capture par l'imaginaire"'.

With the post-Lacanian fissiparous tendencies of his "schools", the term can perhaps return to the general culture, as when the philosopher Deleuze
Gilles Deleuze
Gilles Deleuze , was a French philosopher who, from the early 1960s until his death, wrote influentially on philosophy, literature, film, and fine art. His most popular works were the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus , both co-written with Félix...

 defines the imaginary "by games of mirroring, of duplication, of reversed identification and projection
Psychological projection
Psychological projection or projection bias is a psychological defense mechanism where a person subconsciously denies his or her own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, usually to other people...

, always in the mode of the double."

Sources

  • The Seminars of Jacques Lacan
  • An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis - Dylan Evans
  • Deleuze, Gilles
    Gilles Deleuze
    Gilles Deleuze , was a French philosopher who, from the early 1960s until his death, wrote influentially on philosophy, literature, film, and fine art. His most popular works were the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus , both co-written with Félix...

    . 1972. "How Do We Recognize Structuralism
    Structuralism
    Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague and Moscow schools of linguistics. Just as structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in linguistics, structuralism...

    ?" Trans. Melissa McMahon and Charles J. Stivale. In Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953-1974. Ed. David Lapoujade. New York: Semiotext(e), 2004. ISBN 1584350180. 170-192.
  • Alan Vanier, Lacan (2000)

External links