Structural psychoanalysis is closely associated with the name of the French analyst and psychiatrist Jacques Lacan, whose 1953 lecture “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis” can be considered the founding work of this analytical school. Starting from a critique of the disregard for the unconscious and for conflicts in the psychoanalytic approaches of his time, Lacan calls for a “return to Freud.” From the structural anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, Lacan adopts the idea that the unconscious is structured like a language. In structural psychoanalysis, language does not merely have the status of a secondary system of communication; as a symbolic system that precedes the individual, language essentially structures human subjectivity and thus also the unconscious. Lacan regards the unconscious not as a hidden reservoir of repressed drives but as the effects of language that split and alienate the subject.
The concept of the subject’s constitutive lack is central to structural psychoanalysis. In an attempt to overcome this lack, the subject must turn to language as a symbolic system—Lacan also speaks of the “law of the father” or of the “phallus.” This developmental step described by Lacan can be interpreted as a structural version of the Oedipus complex. Structural psychoanalysis approaches the unconscious via an analysis of literal speech. The aim of psychoanalysis according to structural perceptions is not the remembrance of repressed experiences, nor the “abreaction” of affects or the strengthening of the ego, but the “articulation of the truth” of one’s own “desire."
Jacques Lacan (1901 - 1981, Paris)
Lacan is considered one of the most important psychoanalysts in France, an important intellectual of the 20th century, but also an ‘enfant terrible’ of his guild. The trained psychiatrist not only contributed significantly to the dissemination of psychoanalysis in France but also founded his own school with his reinterpretation of Freud’s work from a philosophical and linguistic perspective.
As early as 1936 Lacan made an important contribution to understanding the emergence of the ego in its radical dependence on others with his lecture on the “mirror stage” at the congress of the International Psychoanalytical Association. His criticism of certain manifestations of psychoanalysis, especially of ego psychology, contributed to the rift with his training analyst Rudolf Loewenstein in 1938. His unorthodox theory and practice—Lacan worked with “scansion,” ending an analytical session not on the formal criterion of time, but on the basis of its content—led to Lacan’s exclusion from the Société Française de Psychanalyse (SPF) in 1963 and to the founding of his own psychoanalytic association, the École freudienne de Paris, in 1964.
Picture: Jacques Lacan
Eve Watson: Structural Psychoanalysis
Eve Watson, Ph.D., is a psychoanalytic practitioner in Dublin (Ireland) and lectures on psychoanalysis on undergraduate and postgraduate level. She has published over two dozen articles on psychoanalysis, sexuality and film and co-edited the book Clinical Encounters in Sexuality: Psychoanalytic Practice and Queer Theory (2017) with Noreen Giffney. Moreover, Watson is the editor of Lacunae, the International Journal for Lacanian Psychoanalysis, and academic director of the Freud Lacan Institute in Dublin.