Jacques Lacan, born in France in 1901, was a noted psychoanalyst and philosopher. He was philosophically regarded as a post-structuralist and preferred to describe his techniques as strictly Freudian, rather than adopting the Lacanian label utilized by other individuals to reference his methodology.
Lacan’s most significant contribution to psychoanalysis related to the study of language and the unconscious mind. He deemed that the unconscious was not a primitive aspect, but relatively parallel to the conscious mind. His theory presented the notion that language held reality, and that the subconscious mind held the Real.
Undoubtedly one of Lacan’s most popular theories, the mirror theory, related to the concept of self. He rationalized that at a very young age, children begin to gaze into the mirror at their reflections and recognize that they are entire entities. Having the perception of the mirror image as the true self, they observe merely the parallels between themselves and their reflection in the mirror, rather than the differences.
While acknowledging the mirror image as the true identity, the perception of self becomes incapable of acknowledging, or comprehending, any subconscious thoughts or desires that differ from that perception or reflection. Mirror images merely display images or reflections of the body, and therefore the unconscious self cannot be recognized in a mirror.
Lacan theorized that the subconscious could be exposed through language. Although he believed that language couldn’t grasp the unconscious mind, he also believed that the unconscious mind would be revealed through language. He felt that because subjects use language that does not reveal the unconscious desires, that theoretically, they don’t understand themselves or their true nature.
Although language makes us who we are, it also blinds us to our unconscious thoughts and desires. Therefore the reality of our subconscious selves eludes us. As such, Lacan theorized that the Real of our subconscious could be exposed through talking and rambling in a stream of consciousness.
Believing that subjects, motivated by unconscious desires that frequently evade language, would reveal those unconscious desires through psychoanalysis, he felt that silences in language were equally as significant as any words spoken by the subject. Lacan presented the belief that, in clinical practice, psychoanalysis needed to transcend beyond the technique of merely listening to the words of the subject.
Through patients facing away from the psychoanalyst, they were able to tap into a steady stream of consciousness as they spoke. It had become Lacan’s firm belief that psychoanalysis should pay attention to the interruptions in speech, in order for the presentation along with the desires of the subconscious mind to reveal themselves.