A Theoretical Impasse? The Concept of the Symbolic in Melanie Klein and Jacques Lacan

This article provides a theoretical clarification of “the symbolic” in Kleinian and Lacanian psychoanalysis and argues for further conceptual research into its implications for psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice. What is striking about the Kleinian and Lacanian models is that they are diametrically opposed in the way they conceptualize the subject’s development of the capacity to form symbols: while for Klein the experience of concrete objects exists from the very beginning of life and the symbol is a product of “object-relating”, for Lacan, on the contrary, the experience of objects is an effect of the symbolic order. In Klein we start with the object/object-relation and work through different stages of symbolism eventually ending up with language, so that linguistic thought develops from the experience of the primal object. In Lacan, on the other hand, integration into the world of language produces lack/absence, which, in turn, is the necessary condition for conceptualizing objects: the experience of objects develops as an effect of language/symbolization. The article begins with an account of Freud’s two main theories of the symbolic – one based on images, the other on language or “word-presentations” – and traces the Klein-Lacan divergence to this theoretical duality. It then argues that a Klein-Lacan dialogue on the symbolic can open new directions for theoretical development by examining how different theories can accurately correspond to empirical observations of psychic functioning, as well as effective clinical interventions.

Terror, Negation, and Writing, Blanchot’s Reading of Sade

In the middle of the last century, numerous French thinkers were interested in the literary works of D.A.F. de Sade, among them Lacan and Blanchot. Blanchot saw Sade as the ideal writer and this author argues that Blanchot’s assertion was based on a conceptualisation of Sade’s literature as revealing both the materiality and the autonomy of language. According to Blanchot, Sade’s language balances on a border: between the things to which language refers on the one hand, and the content that is normally expressed by language on the other. It is further argued that this balancing act is also reflected in the regime of Terror in France, and the universe described by the Marquis in his writings.

A fragment of an analysis with a child, or the importance of language for oedipal structuration

This paper concerns a clinical fragment from the analysis of a four year old child. Several topics relevant for child analysis are addressed. We learn that a child who had abruptly decided to be silent, through the particularity of the transference bond, is once again enough at ease to tell his story. Symbolic exchange, together with the answer of the Other as mirror of language, allows the boy access to the oedipal constellation and allows him to reorient himself psychically. Through a process of drawing, of signifying, being signified, and of writing, we get a glimpse of the significance of language for the Oedipal structuration process.

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Finding one’s Tongue

For children who are deaf – that is to say, who cannot hear sound – from the outset communication involves what they can see, touch, feel, sense, and transmit to others through gestural signs (body language). This happens intuitively , and this process is as incomprehensible to those who use speech as it is to these children. In analysis the deaf (and those who try to “get through to them”) attempt to convey, despite efforts to validate their experience and the historic disparagement of sign language, the difficulty of finding a language that is shared by all. It needs to be understood that a deaf child is neither dumb nor stupid and that a mainstream system of education that recognizes this reality is required.

Approaching the Impossible

Working with psychic suffering one is often confronted with feelings of impotence. Yet this is not a necessary consequence of the impossibility proper to the professions of educating, analysing or governing. Throughout the essays of Imre Kertész, the impossibility – or the unthinkable – is conceived of as proper to the relation between experience and language. A specific example is encountered in what is called the negative experience. Speaking and writing are treated as two distinct possibilities in the encounter with the impossible.