Lacan: the mind of the modernist

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This paper offers an intellectual portrait of the French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, by considering his incorporation of perspectives associated with “modernism,” the artistic and intellectual avant-garde of the first half of the twentieth century. These perspectives are largely absent in other alternatives in psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis. Emphasis is placed on Lacan’s affinities with phenomenology, a tradition he criticized and to which he is often seen as opposed. Two general issues are discussed. The first is Lacan’s unparalleled appreciation of the paradoxical nature of human experience, together with his treatment of paradox as (paradoxically enough) almost a criterion of truth. These points are illustrated by considering Lacan’s conceptions of the self and of erotic desire. The second issue is Lacan’s focus on the “ontological dimension,” on overall styles or modalities of what might be termed “transcendental subjectivity”: namely, what he calls the registers of the “Imaginary,” the “Symbolic,” and the “Real.” By emphasizing the incommensurable yet (paradoxically) interdependent nature of these modalities, Lacan offers a synthesis of dynamic/conflictual and formal/ontological dimensions of the human condition. This paper offers an encompassing portrait of Lacan’s major ideas that is at odds with the widespread assumption that Lacan is somehow a deeply anti-humanist thinker who derides the subjective dimension. Lacan’s most distinctive contributions are fundamentally concerned with the nature of human experience. They show strong affinities with (and the influence of) hermeneutic forms of phenomenology inspired by Heidegger, a philosopher who focused on ontological modes of Being and considered paradox as a mark of truth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-443
Number of pages35
JournalContinental Philosophy Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy


  • Anti-humanism
  • Lacan
  • Modernism
  • Paradox
  • Phenomenology
  • Transcendental subjectivity

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