Jacques Lacan (April 13, 1901 September 9, 1981) was an influential French psychoanalyst.
Lacan's life is summarised in a timeline at this page (http://www.lacan.com/rolleyes.htm).
Lacan reiterated and clarified Sigmund Freud's findings. In contrast to the dominant Anglo-American ego-psychologists of his time, he focused on the powerlessness of the ego in relation to the unconscious. After having obtained a medical degree in psychiatry he settled in Paris, where he worked as a psychoanalyst, primarily with patients suffering from various forms of psychoses.
Lacan argued that the psychoanalytic movement towards understanding the ego as an active and dominating force in the self misinterpreted its Freudian roots. Lacan stated that the self remained in eternal internal conflict and that only extensive self-deceit made the situation bearable.
Lacan also initiated the ideas of the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real, with which he explained the three aspects of human psychic structure. Describing the interaction of this triad, Lacan revised orthodox Freudian ideas about a stable psychic reality. The Imaginary, or pre-linguistic aspect of the psyche, formulates human primitive self-knowledge while the Symbolic, his term for linguistic collaboration, generates a community-wide reflection of primitive self-knowledge and creates the very first set of rules that govern behavior. Lacan's notion of the Real is a very difficult concept which he in his later years worked to present in a structured, set-theory fashion, as mathemes.
His developmental theory of the objectified self was inspired by Ferdinand de Saussure's insights into the relationship of the signifier and the signified.
Although Lacan has joined Freud and Melanie Klein as one of the three major figures in the history of psychoanalysis, he made his most significant contributions not in the traditional form of books and journal articles, but through seminar lectures. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, conducted over a period of more than two decades, was not simply transcribed by Jacques-Alain Miller, his son-in-law; Sherry Turkle further claims that Lacan effectively contracted out all work on the seminars to Miller after reviewing his work on the first and that Miller made extensive changes to the seminars to add clarity to the material (Turkle, Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud's French Revolution, p. 254-255). The Seminars are still taken to represent the main body of his thinking. The Seminars may be taken as more intellectually accessible than his published collection of writings, entitled Ιcrits. Seminar XX remarks that his Ιcrits were not to be understood, but would produce a meaning effect in the reader similar to some mystical texts. Given the complex provenance of these texts, this remark is extremely difficult to evaluate.
Turkle and Ferdinand Dosse both claim that Lacan had a hand in the extremely contentious politics surrounding the pioneering psychoanalysis program at the University of Paris VIII at Vincennes. This was a program headed by Serge Leclaire, annexed to the philosophy department headed by Michel Foucault. At the outset all of the members of the program were also members of the Freudian School of Paris [French acronym EFP, for Ιcole Freudienne de Paris]. Lacan was not a member of the program himself, but his son-in-law was. The department suffered from a number of difficulties: one was that Lacan was not himself in charge. Leclaire became exasperated with the program's lack of autonomy, intellectual and institutional, both from Lacan and the philosophy faculty and left the University. The department was to go without a chair for three years. Second, the program had limited degree status. A degree from Vincennes was not initially a clinical qualification to practise psychoanalysis, which caused considerable objection among the students. When Lacan gave a lecture at the University in 1969, in which students interrupted to complain about their lack of qualification through the program and refused to accept his objection that psychoanalytic knowledge was distinct from other forms of knowledge taught by the university and therefore should not be credentialed equally. In addition to his concern about granting clinical authority Lacan was against granting any academic credit for work in the program. Students unhappy with the program's seeming disinterest in clinical experience left the program to undergo analysis or simply stopped attending lectures. Miller's inclusion in the program was a problem in that his avowed Maoism was in apparent contradiction with his university position given that Maoism set the abolition of the university as a goal. Such contradictory and conflicted attitudes toward authority and education are often taken as the hallmark of Vincennes generally (ironic jokes about a Gaullist strategy to preoccupy the many factions of the French academic left by giving them a university to administer), but this problem seems unusually acute in the psychoanalysis program. Third, Lacan's subsequent involvement in the program, which began in 1974, was regarded as heavy-handed and was a further source of frustration for the clinically included. Lacan was retooling his views of psychoanalysis heavily and was determined to give it a more profoundly scientific character. He declared the previous efforts of the program a failure, appointed himself to a position in the department, and had Miller elevated to the position of chairman. In the same period Luce Irigaray proposed to offer a course on material developing in the wake of her first book on psychoanalysis and feminine sexuality and was rejected. This rejection was perceived as petty antagonism of a critic indicative of a further curtailment of intellectual freedom in a program seemingly shackled to Lacan's agenda. Later decision to grant clinical standing by degrees from the program were taken as signs of outright hypocrisy serving to assure Miller of unreasonable powers in Lacan's name.
In this period the EFP fell apart, sparked in large part by the rise of the parallel organization Confrontations, which Renι Major helped found with the support of Jacques Derrida. Confrontrations harnessed much of the dissent that emerged in the French psychoanalytic community in response to Lacan's insistence on mathematical aspects of his scientific conception of psychoanalysis. The clinical emphasis of Confrontations drew in those less inclined toward issues they viewed as hermetically theoretical or philosophical. In some respects Confrontations might be taken to be a necessary element of the psychoanalyic community, but the EFP went so far as to remove Denis Vasse, then serving as its vice president, from office for his participation. EFP broken down into factions, and a number of factions otherwise sympathetic to Lacan walked became restive because of what they viewed Miller's increasing hegemony as dictatorial in ambition. As questions were raised about the democratic nature of the EFP, Lacan became increasingly ill with colon cancer. A letter dissolving the EFP was circulated, affixed to a Lacanian signature whose authority was contested by allegations of a Miller forgery or dictation imposed upon a gravely ill Lacan. The matter splattered headlines everywhere. Louis Althusser showed up to denounce the proceedings of a meeting to found a new organization, the Freudian Cause. It became increasingly difficult to determine whether Lacan was speaking with his own voice or if Miller were appropriating his authority in a bid to consolidate power. Turkle has suggested that many who wished to think themselves loyal to Lacan expressed this in imagining that they were only defying the machinations of a scheming son-in-law.
Lacan died in hospital after a hemorrhage left him in a coma.
Criticism was levelled at Jacques Lacan in the essays of Jacques Derrida, who made a considerable critique not only of Lacan's analytic writings, but his structuralist approach as a whole and its various underpinnings. Lacan, like Freud, was also the target of numerous feminist critics, who saw Lacan as carrying on the sexist tradition in psychoanalysis.
Lacan was not without other critics either: Franηois Roustang, in The Lacanian Delusion, called Lacan's output "extravagant" and an incoherent system of pseudo-scientific gibberish. Lacan was described by his acquaintance Noam Chomsky as a "conscious charlatan." In Fashionable Nonsense (1997), authors Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont accused Lacan of abusing scientific concepts (however, they have been accused of various misunderstandings too), and in a 750-page French biography of Lacan (translated into English by Barbara Bray) by Elisabeth Roudinesco, a psychiatric historian, Lacan was portrayed as a megalomaniac and compulsive womanizer who was dishonest when it was expedient. Notable, however, is that Roudinesco has also characterized Lacan as "the last great living master of psychoanalysis" (Roudinesco w/ Derrida, Of What Tomorrow..., p. 167) and further argued:
Lacan is the only heir to Freud who attempted to think the question of a school of psychoanalysis that would be neither a professional corporation, nor a party, nor a sect, nor a bureaucracy. He pushed the reflection on this subject very far, and I can testify to this, having participated in this adventure as a member of the EFP beginning in 1969. (ibid, p. 182)