Alienation Freud Lacan Symbolic

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Alienation is an often tragic form of dislocation in the social sphere. It is a condition which entails a dissonance between oneself; one's hopes, dreams and aspirations and the wider social whole, which seems to be moving in a direction contrary to one's own desires. It quite often entails an almost ascetic withdrawal into a private, imaginative world and the birth of a furious internal questioning. This seeking of answers to corroborate one's identity as it drifts further into a potentially destructive malaise may also herald the dawn of a new awareness and the emergence of a stronger personality more equipped to deal with the complexities of the world.

Oftentimes, we are on the wrong track with our lifestyle spiralling out of control. Sometimes, we feel intuitively that we are on a pointless merry-go-round and so, we arrest this process, via an internal wisdom and grant ourselves the space to begin anew. However, though there are potential great rewards, an all too severe severing from the thrust of daily life and the retreat into a reclusive shell - almost like the chrysalis of the caterpillar before s/he gains the wings of the butterfly - invites visitors from the deep; the restless unconscious mind. What is now brought forward in this period of introspection must be dealt with, and most often, it can only be dealt with alone.

The switch from external mediation via the Symbolic (the familiar meanings attached to everyday life) to an interior intrapsychic life dominated by imaginary modes of thought is precisely what Lacan highlights as the dominant feature of foreclosed alienated subject; "What is altogether remarkable is that the subject is stagnant with respect to any dialogue". And again, in his 1964 seminar, in words that recall the later non-diagnostic approaches of R.D. Laing and Al Siebert;

"Analysis is not a matter of discovering in a particular case the differential feature of the theory, and in doing so believe that one is explaining why your daughter is silent - for the point at issue is to get her to speak, and this effect proceeds from a type of intervention that has nothing to do with a differential feature."

The subject, yet to become the subject of the subjective Real (the emergence of the stable future persona), has become locked into a set of imaginary identifications which aren't being corroborated by their interactions with their social environment. Perhaps, for example, s/he has introjected into their ego-ideal imagos of historical personages whose life histories, character, perceived nobility etc. amount to an impossible ideal. This self-image will no doubt conflict sharply with the appraisal to be found in the field of the Other (the entire set of arenas for social interaction). A cycle of frustrating social encounters has been established. Yet these types of identifications should not in themselves lead to an alienated subjectivity since they are the grist and mill of any respectable educative programme.

Psychoanalysis, due to Freud's insistence on the point, used to assume that the underlying cause of this silence is to be located in an inexpressible homosexuality. Lacan himself is often ambivalent on this point despite how he handled the question of the case study of the tram-driver's desire. This is because he is subtle enough to realise the folly of applying universal solutions to cases of such extreme variation. On the one hand he is scornful of the rich proliferations of deliria being reduced to the struggle against homosexuality while, on the other he appears to affirm this controversial Freudian doctrine;

"This is where all the between-I phenomena that make up what is apparent in the symptomatology of psychosis (extreme alienation) take place - at the level of the other subject, of the one who holds the initiative in the delusion - in the case of Schreber, Professor Flechsig or God who is potentially so seductive that he places the world order in danger by virtue of the attraction"

Here, Lacan clearly intimates that for Schreiber (the 19th century German judge who wrote "Memoirs of my Nervous Illness") the acceptance of a homosexual impulse towards Flechsig (his physician) is, in fact, tantamount to jeopordising his world order, for to act upon it would require in any case a significant restructuring of his relations in the Other. Again, briefly, what has occurred, according to Lacan, is the failure of the paternal metaphor. The successful establishment of the Name-of-the-Father provides the child with a point of orientation within the field of the Other. It overlays, improves and embellishes what Lacan has elsewhere described as the "judgement of existence", conceived as the child's initial and primordial affective reaction to his environment.

This does not mean that Oedipus implies the universal adoption of coherence to the Law. The Lacanian return to Freud involves, among other things the reconceptualization of oedipal triangulation. It is the phallus as locus of power. Castration means being deprived of the phallus. It merely means to suggest that the child believes in the modus operandi adopted by the figurative father (a phrase which incidentally can also embrace the mother), that he finds his/her dictates credible and practically important and utilises them in an adequate manner in his own dealings with(in) the Other.

Conversely, with the failure of the paternal function there is introduced a discordance between the messages emanating from that centre and the child's apprehension of the external world. This can take place, obviously, along a multitude of different paths, implying all manners of attitudinal responses from the child. We can then suggest that there comes into play a habitual mode of negation, directed both at the source of the paternal function, which is found to be objectionable, and the values found in the external environment. This reactionary position involves from the onset a necessary over-reliance on ones own intrasubjectivity, a position that cannot have been easy to arrive at, but once accomplished the subject can proceed to dissemble both 'accounts' of reality and in their place erect his own.

In the silence of alienation there is registered a profound objection to the constitution of the Other; the discourse of the Other as it impinges upon the person is so antithetical to the interior dialogue that their comes a refusal to participate in the "rules" of the language game. The failure of Dora's "transference" (an empathic identification with the therapist deemed necessary to progress the treatment) lay in Freud's inability to perceive the strength of her contempt for the assumptions of a patriarchal social order that would deliver her into the hands, through marriage, of a man who had sexually assaulted her as a 14 year old. Freud, ensconced in the hermetic oasis of bourgeois myopia failed to perceive these feminist rumblings and, indeed, retained a self-confessed mystification of the opposite sex that was to last a lifetime.

As for Dora, it has been concluded, mainly by Freudian apologists, that she never satisfactorily overcame her "neurotic personality structure" and so, eventually sunk into the abyss of what we would today refer to as social exclusion. I am not suggesting that Dora could articulate a coherent social doctrine based upon egalitarian gender relations. She was, after all, only eighteen when first admitted to Freud's clinic. But this is precisely the area where the transference would have yielded positive results.

In Dora's never to be explored unconscious lay all the rudiments of a social critique; a critique of assumptions and attitudes. Because the focus would have been on the structure of daily relationships and how they in turn succeeded in undermining the fledgling autonomy of an individual who eventually withdrew from that society on the strength of a moral objection, the case study could have been a valuable social document; a microcosmic slice of dreamy upper-middle class Vienna prior to the massive upheaval of 'The Great War'.

The assumption is still often maintained, as an underlying pretext as it were, by psychotherapy and psychiatry that the deficit, the inability to thrive in one's environment, arises from a genetic disposition of the individual, often allied their lack of "coping skills". This deficit is today writ large in the indelible ink of genetic predisposition and pathogenic psychogenesis, cruelly absolving the person of "responsibility", that is to say emasculating them, taking them out of the debate, whilst all the while downplaying the effect of their immediate social environment.

It is in this instance, where one's own personal internal journey, an often necessary one, can be hijacked by larger interests, who, in turn, proceed to define for you, what it is that your specific form of alienation has been about. In such cases it is best to spread one's new found wings and leave these definitions behind.

More about this author: Bob Seery

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