FREUD ARGUED THAT subjects could only deal effectively with unconscious material when they could talk about it with their analysts—by bringing it into language, in other words.It took the work of Jacques Lacan ( 1901-81) to draw out fully the significance of language for psychoanalysis.In doing this, Lacan was in tune with other major developments in twentieth-century thought. Indeed, it is hard to overstate the importance to the modern era of the idea that language defines human life. Ludwig Wittgenstein's ( 1889- 1951) idea of the 'language game', and Martin Heidegger's identification of language with the limits of (human) Being both in very different ways and in very separate traditions propose language as the centrepiece of the interactions of consciousness with both the world and others.
In the 1950s and 1960s, structuralism and semiotics encouraged the use of the linguistic theories of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure ( 1857-1913) as a general model of all human culture.The human being was to be seen as the signifying animal, and all human rituals and behaviours could ultimately be read. The anthropological work of Claude Lévi-Strauss (b. 1908) and the cultural analysis of Roland Barthes ( 1915-80) were pivotal in the application of structuralist models of the sign to human behaviour in general.
Lacan's ultimate and most influential conclusion is that the unconscious is structured like a language. The aim of this chapter is to give an outline of Lacanian thought in relation to its forebears: Saussurian linguistics and Freudian psychoanalysis.It must be said that Lacan's writing is notorious for its ambiguity and its intentional obscurity.Given that Lacan's aim was to challenge the commonsense idea that language exists in order to communicate, and is