The Meaning-making of the Lacanian Subject

Subjectivity is important to Lacanian theory, especially when situating Lacan’s notion of “the subject” as a post-structural project. Of course, the problem with labeling Lacan’s “subject”–undoubtedly crucial to the whole of Lacanian thought–as post-structural is that such a label is misleading. To be sure, Lacan is often categorized as “post-structural” rather than “structural” perhaps mostly because of the influences of phenomenology, post-Freudian, and existentialism that predominantly come to bear on Lacan’s notion of “the subject” as the likes of Sassurian and Levi-Straussian theory do. However, the history behind Lacanian thought presents immense difficulties, when suggesting which influences hold more weight on Lacanian thought than others. Any sort of adjudication is, at best, a contradictory endeavor and, at worst, an attempt to oversimplify what Lacan is up to. Put more simply, subjectivity in Lacanian thought presents interesting problems. One of the problems that arises with Lacan is how his notion of “the subject” does not neatly fit into either the post-structural or structural schools–that is to say, if proposing that Lacan’s project is contingent more on one than the other, and such a contingency sheds more light on what Lacan’s notion of “the subject” means with all the practical upshots included. Instead, Lacan’s “subject” is a radicalized perspective of subjectivity that ventures beyond the post-structural school, even if it has some semblance of traditional structuralism. As it has been rightly noted, Lacan does not conceive of subjectivity as a breaking down of subject-object distinctions–the overarching thrust of a majority of post-structuralism, particularly evident in Heidegger’s belief that subject-object distinctions have corrupted the history of ontology going all the way back to Plato as the chief culprit. Though Heidegger’s distinct brand of phenomenology and existentialism is in the backdrop of Lacanian thought on the whole, Lacan is nevertheless very much invested in the role of “the subject” in relation to what “the subject” can objectify–or simply “the object”–as that which encompasses otherness. “The Other,” then, becomes an object of understanding that allows “the subject” to embark on a meaning-making process of phenomenological and existential proportions. What does this mean? It means that Lacan views the roles of “the subject” and objectified “Other” as an inescapable dialectic–it is a dialectic predicated on a Deleuzian “immanent event” of meaning-made by “the subject” with respect to the meaning-making potentiality of the otherness of “The Other.”

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