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Jacques Lacan (1901–1981)

Arguably the most important, and certainly the most controversial, theorist and practitioner of psychoanalysis since Freud, Jacques Lacan was the foremost influence on the Cercle d’Épistémologie and the key inspiration for the Cahiers pour l’Analyse. Born in Paris in 1901, Lacan pursued studies in psychiatry and developed close ties with the surrealist movement in the interwar years. Following upon his doctoral work on paranoid psychosis and its relationship to personality, Lacan made his first crucial contribution to psychoanalysis in 1936 with his presentation on the ‘mirror stage’ of child development and its formative role in the constitution of the ego. In the early 1950s, Lacan began holding a series of seminars centred on a ‘return to Freud’. Lacan’s aim was to develop a deliberate alternative to the ‘ego psychology’ that had become the predominant interpretation of Freud in Anglo-American circles, and which conceived of psychoanalysis as a therapeutic practice designed to assist the ‘ego’ in its adaptation to the social and material world. Inspired by similar projects in linguistics and anthropology, Lacan undertook a structural reading of Freud that emphasized the primacy of the signifier over the signified and that relegated the ego to the domain of the imaginary, emphasizing its distinction from the subject of the unconscious. His distinction of the subject from the ‘ego’ or ‘consciousness’, accounts for Lacan’s status as one of the most important theorists of subjectivity in recent European thought.

Lacan’s analytic practices resulted in his expulsion from the International Psychoanalytic Association in 1963 and the transfer of his seminar from the Saint-Anne Hospital to the École Normale Supérieure following the invitation of Louis Althusser. Lacan’s first seminar in this venue, held in January 1964 and later published as The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, was attended by Jacques-Alain Miller and other future editors of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse. A turning point in Lacan’s own intellectual trajectory, this seminar emphasized the constitutively split nature of the subject and inspired the structural investigation of subjectivity that would be the dominant theme of the Cahiers. In ‘Science and Truth’, a document which served as the inaugural lesson of his 1965-66 seminar, the inaugural article in the Cahiers, and the capstone essay of Lacan’s Écrits, Lacan addressed the relationship between science and psychoanalysis. Arguing that the subject of the latter was also the subject of the former in the modern era, Lacan emphasized psychoanalysis’s peculiar status as a practice historically conditioned by science and yet capable of pointing to the constitutive ignorance of truth in scientific discourse, an ignorance that makes science as such possible. Lacan’s formulations concerning the function of truth as cause, and the distinction of truth from knowledge, laid the groundwork for the debates within the Cahiers over the relationship between science and ideology and the function of the subject within each discourse.

A source of the Cahiers’s engagement with formalisation, Lacan was inspired by the Cahiers in turn, pursuing an ever more rigorous engagement with formalism and topology until his death in 1981. In addition to Lacan’s own writings and seminars, the Cahiers pour l’Analyse occupy a crucial position in the history of Lacanian psychoanalysis, a phenomenon which transcends the contributions and intentions signified by the proper name at its source.

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

Jacques Lacan, ‘La Science et la vérité’, CpA 1.1 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]
Jacques Lacan, ‘Réponses à des étudiants en philosophie sur l’objet de la psychanalyse’, CpA 3.1 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]

Select bibliography

  • Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink, in collaboration with Héloïse Fink and Russell Grigg. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006.
  • Le Séminaire, livre XI: Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1973. Seminar IX: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Penguin, 1977.
  • De la psychose paranoïaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalité (1932). Paris: Seuil, 1975.
  • Seminar XII: Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis (1964–1965), trans. Cormac Gallagher, unpublished manuscript.
  • Seminar XIII: The Object of Psychoanalysis (1965–1966), trans. Cormac Gallagher, unpublished manuscript.
  • Autres écrits. Paris: Seuil, 2001.

Links to comprehensive bibliographies of Lacan’s writings, in French and in English, can be found at