Pauline O’Callaghan – Lacan and Seminar XX

THE LETTER 16 (Summer 1999) pages 78-91

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. Whilst for the male child the entrance into  the symbolic Order  is  characterised  b\>  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.

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   behveen  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.”   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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