Jacques Lacan (1901 – 1981) studied Nietzsche, Hegel, Heidegger and Jaspers while studying medicine to be a psychiatrist. I mentioned that Lacan attended Kojeve’s lectures on Hegel with Bataille and that he tried to systematize Nietzsche using Freud. Lacan became a psychiatrist in the 1920s, and married Bataille’s estranged wife, while he was involved with the Surrealists of Paris. His thesis, Paranoid Psychosis and its Relations to the Personality, was an influence on many Surrealists, such as Dali and Breton, both personal friends of Lacan. He was also a contributor to Surrealist journals and Picasso’s personal physician.
Lacan is most famous for his theory of the mirror stage, when as toddlers we form a stable image and conception of ourselves by looking at others and our own reflection, then cling to it in the attempt to resolve the flux and contradictions of our thoughts and feelings, and then repress or redirect whatever does not conform to this image. Lacan’s work centers on narcissism, not merely self-love, as it is often described, but self-obsession. After the young child forms an image of self and begins to cling to it, the child forms narcissistic complexes, forms of excluding self from other that attempt to establish stability in an inevitably insecure situation. The ego is an “inauthentic agency”, concealing its own unstable lack of unity. Note the Heidegger speak about authenticity. Freud had wondered why narcissism develops early in children but is not present from the beginning, and Lacan believed he had solved this problem with his mirror stage and the formation of self-image.
Narcissism fragments the world in attempting to cling to a coherent self, and anxiety becomes paranoia. Disunity and contradiction are projected onto the world and others, away from the self and social selves with which the self identifies. The self establishes its place relative to others as “the Real“, not the whole of reality, but merely a preferred image which is insecure, just like the self-image situated in the Real. To use the Nazis as an example yet again, we could suppose that an SS officer is insecure in his individual identity, and so he chooses to subscribe to Nazi ideology and racism in an attempt to secure his own self and its place in the world. Lacan believed that making this situation transparent to the self is therapeutic, dissolving paranoid narcissistic delusions and obsessions that entrap the static images of self, other and Real, which Heidegger said of thinking.