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Questions for Weekly Discussions about Tyson's Critical Theory Today (Week 1)  

2018-01-23 08:57:57|  分类: +文论 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-friendly Guide. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. (洛伊丝·泰森:《当代批评理论实用指南》(第二版),赵国新等译。北京:外研社,2014)

Questions for Weekly Discussions

Week 1: Lacanian Psychoanalysis

1. What important role does language play in Lacanian psychoanalysis (its notion of the mother-child relationship in particular) compared with its Freudian counterpart?

2. What does Tyson mean when she refers to Lacan’s notion of the “objet petit a”?

3. Are there any inconsistencies in the following passages on Lacanian psychoanalysis? (With page numbers in Tyson)

The Imaginary, the Symbolic, Objet petit a, and the Real

Indeed, Lacan claims that the Mirror Stage initiates what he calls the Imaginary Order, by which he means the world of images. This is not the world of the imagination, but a world of perception. It’s the world that the child experiences through images rather than through words. And it is a world of fullness, completeness, and delight because with the child’s sense of itself as a whole comes the illusion of control over its environment, of which it still perceives itself an inseparable part, and over its mother, with whom it feels it is in a union of mutual satisfaction: my mother is all I need and I am all my mother needs. Remember, the child’s preverbal feeling of complete union with its mother and, therefore, complete control over its world is illusory, but it is nonetheless very satisfying and very powerful. Lacan refers to this experience as the Desire of the Mother, intending to imply the two-way desire just described, that is, the desire of the mother for the child and the child’s desire of the mother. During this period, the child’s feeling of connection with its mother is, for good or ill, its first and most important experience, and this primary dyad, or twosome, continues until the child acquires language, a change that, for Lacan, is of paramount importance. (27)

      “He refers to the child’s acquisition of language as its initiation into the Symbolic Order, for language is first and foremost a symbolic system of signification, that is, a symbolic system of meaning-making (28)”

Our entrance into the Symbolic Order thus involves the experience of separation from others, and the biggest separation is the separation from the intimate union we experienced with our mother during our immersion in the Imaginary Order. For Lacan, this separation constitutes our most important experience of loss, and it is one that will haunt us all our lives. We will seek substitutes great and small for that lost union with our mother. (28)

Lacan refers to this lost object of desire as objet petit a, or “object small a,” with the letter a standing for autre, the French word for other. Lacan scholars offer various reasons for Lacan’s use of this particular piece of formulaic shorthand. One useful explanation might be that, in separating us from our preverbal world of idealized union with our mother, the Symbolic Order changed our mother into an other (someone separate from me) just as it changed everything else in our preverbal world of union into a world of people and things separate from ourselves. (28)

The Symbolic Order dominates human culture and social order, for to remain solely in the Imaginary Order is to render oneself incapable of functioning in society. Nevertheless, the Imaginary Order makes itself felt through experiences of the kind the Symbolic Order would classify as misinterpretations, misunderstandings, or errors of perception. (31-2)

Lacan’s notion of the Real is a very difficult concept that he had trouble explaining. One way to think of the Real is as that which is beyond all our meaning-making systems, that which lies outside the world created by the ideologies society uses to explain existence. That is, the Real is the uninterpretable dimension of existence; it is existence without the filters and buffers of our signifying, or meaning-making, systems. For example, the Real is that experience we have, perhaps on a daily basis even if it’s only for a moment, when we feel that there is no purpose or meaning to life, when we suspect that religion and any or all of the rules that govern society are hoaxes or mistakes or the results of chance. In other words, we experience the Real when we have a moment in which we see through ideology, when we realize that it is ideology—and not some set of timeless values or eternal truths—that has made the world as we know it. We sense that ideology is like a curtain upon which our whole world is embroidered, and we know that behind that curtain is the Real. But we can’t see behind the curtain. The Real is something we can know nothing about, except to have the anxious feeling from time to time that it’s there. (32)

“What do we learn about characters if we can discover where they’ve invested their unconscious desire for objet petit a? In other words, where has a given character placed (or displaced, to be more precise) his or her unconscious desire for the haunting, idealized mother of infancy?” (33).

For our second brief example, let’s try Kate Chopin’s frequently anthologized novella The Awakening (1899). Here again, we have a female protagonist, Edna Pontellier, who is drawn to the Imaginary Order: in her case, the world of art, music, sexual freedom, and romance. She is drawn to the Imaginary Order partly in response to the emotionally distant father and older sister who raised her and partly in response to her husband Léonce, who is so thoroughly bound to the Symbolic Order that he is practically its poster child. However, Edna is also drawn to the Imaginary Order in search of something she can’t identify. She is haunted by a longing that can’t be satisfied, not by her art, not by Mademoiselle Reisz’s music, not by her own sexual freedom, and not by romance. A Lacanian reader might say that Edna remains unsatisfied because she doesn’t realize that art, music, sexual freedom, and romance are just her substitutes for objet petit a, the fantasy union with her mother/her world she experienced in infancy and still unconsciously desires. Indeed, we might argue that it is the strength of this unconscious desire that finally draws her, as naked as the day she was born, into her fatal union with the sea, where her last experiences are sensory, not verbal, memories of her youth: she hears the barking of a dog, the clanging of spurs, the hum of bees, and she smells the odor of flowers. (33-4)

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