"The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience"

  1. When was this essay written? (1949) What was its relationship to the previous psychology of the time? (doesn't like ego-psychology or existential psychology)
  2. Why does belief in "the mirror stage" lead to a rejection of any philosophy "directly issuing from the Cogito"? (latter is too rational an interpretation)
  3. Why is the mirror stage so important? (1286, basis of self-recognition, dream, double) What are some of the emotions and assumptions associated with it? (The I is precipitated in primordial form.)
  4. What is the function of the mirror stage? (1287, to establish a relation between the organism and its reality)
  5. What does it mean to say that "the mirror-image would seem to be the threshold of the visible world? (1286)
  6. What flaw or "primordial Discord" seems to remain as part of the mirror-stage? (1287-88, man born too soon!) Are there analogous hypotheses in religion or literature? (original sin, the tragic flaw)
  7. How can the "little man" compensate for a sense of "specific prematurity of birth"? (1288, succession of fantasies which create a form of totality)
  8. What projects the human being into history? (1288) Why does this cause "the assumption of the armour of an alienating identity, which will mark with its rigid structure the subject's entire mental development"? (the "mirror stage is a drama whose internal thrust is precipitated from insufficiency to anticipation," 1288)
  9. What does Lacan see as a motivation for dreams and artistic representations of dismemberment? (sense of fragmented body) For images of a fortress or castle?
  10. Can you see any application of these remarks to literary analyses?
  11. How do Lacanian descriptions of the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real compare with Freud's earlier categorizations of superego, ego, and id?
  12. What are the features of obsessional neurosis? (inversion, isolation, reduplication, cancellation and displacement, 1288)
  13. What happens at the end of the mirror stage? (1289) What are dangers for the child henceforth? ("desire of the other . . . turns the I into that apparatus for which every instinctual thrust constitutes a danger," 1289)
  14. What is the relation of the child's ego to others, according to Lacan? What underlies our actions toward others, including charitable ones? (1289 aggression and jealousy)
  15. What does he believe is wrong with existential psychology? (limited to the exploration of consciousness, thus denying unconscious processes or working against them; promoting belief in free will rather than psychic determinism)
  16. What extreme positions does he think it leads to?(belief in freedom within a prison, idealization of the sexual relation, 1290) Do you agree? (1290)
  17. What should we substitute for the notion that the ego is centered on consciousness? (1290, function of meconnaissance) What is the function of misrecognition? Why is it disturbing?
  18. What would make this concept especially appealing to literary critics?
  19. What does Lacan find to be the relation of personal neuroses to social passions? (1290)
  20. What does he mean by his statement that love must undo again or sever the knot of imaginary servitude? (sense of repression and denial) Why cannot altruistic feeling exist in pure form? (1290, aggressivity underlies it)
  21. What in Lacan's view are the limitations of psychoanalysis? (cannot bring patient to the point where the real journey begins, 1291)
  22. Why may Lacan's ideas have been attractive to literary critics? Do his ideas seem gender- or culture-specific?

Jacques Lacan, “The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious”

  1. What are some implications of Lacan’s claim that the unconscious is strucured like a language? (1290)
  2. Why may the subject be said to be subordinate to language, rather than to control it? (1291)
  3. What according to Lacan is the most important feature of culture? (1291, language)
  4. What does he credit with the formulation of modern linguistics? (1292, Saussure)
  5. What does the formula S/s represent for him? What is the relationship between the signifier and signified? (1293)
  6. What is his view of contemporary logical positivism, and on what grounds? (1293)
  7. What points does he intend to make with the diagram of the men’s and women’s room as a figure of the relationship between S and s? (1294, the signifier is arbitrary, can be shifted; the signifier belongs to the Symbolic order and is imposed by the Law of the Father)
  8. What is the point of the story about the two children who argue over whether the train has stopped at one restroom or the other? (1294; the signifier is a placeholder determined by its position)
  9. What is meant by a “signifying chain”? (1295)
  10. What does it mean to say that “the signifier, by its very nature, always anticipates meaning by unfolding its dimension before it”? (1296)
  11. What features of language supplement its linear organization? (1296-97)
  12. What points does Lacan make about the usages associated with the word “tree”? (1297-98) Why is it important that language can signify something other than what it says? (1298)
  13. What is metonomy, as he defines it? (1298) Metaphor? (1299) What are the psychological functions of metaphor and metonymy, in his view? Does he give examples? (1299-1300)
  14. What are his equations intended to represent? (1299) What do you make of them? (1299-1300)
  15. Why does he believe Freud has contributed to a discussion of identity? (1301)
  16. Why must he change the notion of “I think therefore I am” to “Where I think, there I am,” and then to “I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think”? (1300-1302, to take into account the unconscious)
  17. What final reflections does Lacan offer on the possibility of finding a key to one’s unconscious processes?
  18. What is meant by his final claim that Freud discovered the axis of the signified and signifier? (if what Freud discovered isn’t that, it isn’t anything,” 1302; we are always displacing meaning)

Jacques Lacan, “The Signification of the Phallus,” 1958

  1. What does Lacan believe needs to be explained about the “castration complex” ascribed by Freudians to the male psyche? (1303)
  2. Which of Freud’s sentiments does he cite in support of his view that this problem constitutes an impasse? (1303)
  3. What will be his answer to the question, “What is the link between the murder of the father and the pact of the primordial law, if it is included in that law that castration should be the punishment for incest”? (1303)
  4. What is the implication of his statement that the castration complex exists “without regard to the anatomical difference of the sexes”? Do women then experience the same effects? (1303)
  5. How does he describe the early pyscho-sexual maturation of the child? (1303-1304) On what grounds does he disagree with other post-Freudians who have argued for the equality of women in the pyschosexual realm? (1304)
  6. What aspects of psychological processes could Freud not have had access to? What according to Lacan is the relationship between psychic processes and language? (1305)
  7. Are these linguistic features culturally determined, according to Lacan? (1305) What psychologist has been associated with these views?
  8. How does Lacan define the “phallus”? (1306) What function does it serve? (signifier)
  9. What is Lacan’s notion of “desire,” and how is this differentiated from demand, need and love? (1306-1307)
  10. What does it mean to say that “demand annuls the particularity of everything that can be granted by transmuting it into a proof of love”? (1307)
  11. How is desire caused? In Lacanian terms, what is demanded by both persons in a relationship? (1307) What then is wrong with Freudian and post-Freudian notions of maturation from sex to love?
  12. Why cannot the human being aim at wholeness? (1308) What is the relation of the phallus to language and desire? (1308)
  13. What does the subject recognize in the Other? (1309) What causes a sense of threat or nostalgia for lack? (1309)
  14. What does Lacan posit to the be the psychological experience of women within the love relation? (1310) How does their experience differ from that of men? (1310)
  15. How may later feminists have objected to these views?
  16. How does Lacan explain the attraction toward virgins and/or prostitutes? (1310)
  17. How does Lacan differentiate male and female homosexuality? (1310) Would Rich and Butler have agreed?
  18. What “mask” is characteristic of femininity? How does Lacan explain his view that male self-display is marked as feminine? (1310)
  19. And finally, what does he believe is the most profound function of the phallus?
  20. Can you see ways in which Lacan’s ideas may have influenced other writers you have read? What are their limitations?

Page numbers are from The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2001.