Return to Freud (via Lacan)


The “unconscious” isn’t a bathtub bubble emerging from a good theoretical lather in which the intellectual has been wallowing. I have been wrong about it. And being contemptuous of psychoanalysis as a discipline was too uninformed (didn’t people say psychoanalysis is dead?). In fact, a realization waylaid me this morning that the idea of unconscious is not mere an abstraction but  something that can make itself felt if one is attentive enough to see whats happening. At the university, I brushed aside all the papers on psychoanalysis thinking that it ain’t something I need to bother about. My location today is at the other side of this opinion. I read a little bit of Freud (Civilization and Its Discontents & Interpretation of Dreams) and even less of Lacan. For I thought that the stuff these guys talk about is hardly real. That was naivete. Finishing Interpretation of Dreams, Freud wrote –

“Insight such as this falls to one’s lot but once in a lifetime”.

And such is this moment as this post is being written. Freud’s distinction of conscious/unconscious is presented as a theory for the constitution of the mind. For him the mind is divided into two – the conscious and the unconscious. The unconscious is a mental process to which an individual bears no awareness. This is comprised of – ID, Ego and Superego. The processes in the unconscious amount to the major psychic events that occur in an individual’s life. The conscious is what an individual lives by and is guided by in his social world.

However, when one reads Freud through Lacan it begins to make better sense as Lacan takes a step forwards and says unconscious isn’t just theory but theory and practice both which confronts the individual. Zizek puts it as –

 “It does not show an individual the way to accommodate him- or herself to the demands of social reality; it explains how something like “reality” constitutes itself in the first place.”

When Lacan suggests a ‘return to Freud’ he means a return to understanding consciousness as not a subdued, adjusted self with neutered unconscious or a return to ‘the core of the Freudian revolution’ as Zizek interprets it. The most appealing aspect of Lacan’s interpretation of the unconscious is that he finds unconsciousness as structured as a language. He argues that it is not an irrational drive but that it has its own grammar and logic – that the unconscious ‘talks and thinks’. It is a site where the actual reality, the true and bare core of reality locates itself. This reality is not what an individual has to adjust with or identify with. But that this is what he has to learn to live with.

The intention of this post is to get at this. The unconscious is not a wild terrain which plays in unpredictable manner within an individual. It is the basal layer of all truths that constitute and affect the individual’s life. And with this unconscious, one doesn’t ‘adjust’ neither one makes room for it. Sooner or later he has to return to it and live with it, by it. Also, it appears that all along in one’s life things gradually move towards the manifestation of the unconscious. But that this is happening takes effort to know and realize.

Trigger for this thought was a recent french film that I watched – Amour. About an ageing couple who live by themselves and the painfully hard decision that the old man has to take when he finds that he can no longer care for her bedridden and completely incapacitated wife. A must watch. For some serious hard-hitting real life drama! 

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