Keynote Speech

Keynote Speech

Nurten Birlik


Middle East Technical University

June 15, 2017


Bumin Kağan Hall

What does Lacan say about identity?

Lacanian epistemology subverts and evacuates the category of identity as it problematizes the Cartesian pragmatic ego as the perceiving subject of consciousness, which is a stable, self-knowing totality of wholeness. Instead of the Cartesian unity and essence, he puts the emphasis on identificatory relations and language as the constitutional elements in the formation of the ego. For him, instead of identity which is only a totalized fiction, there is subjectivity which is in flux due to identifications with significant others. These shifting psychic identifications shape what one is or what one might become.  Along with his/her identifications, the subject emerges only within the discourse and gets to know himself/herself from the place of language. As the subject is caught in and spoken by language, Lacan shifts Freud’s emphasis on the father to the Father, or the paternal metaphor and language in the constitution of the subject. In Freud, it is the biological father that disrupts the symbiotic tie with the mother that gives narcissistic gratification to the infant. However, in Lacan this symbiosis is intruded upon by language and the Law of Father (not only the biological father who is a metonymic extension of the paternal metaphor within the family). As language and unconscious are distinct and operate through different lines of logic, Lacan also takes the idea that the ego of the subject is identical with the presence that is speaking to one, as an illusion. For him “I” is an other, and he critiques the objective status of the speaking I and differentiates it from the subject itself which is positioned in language.Thus, he re-reads and provides a linguistic/symbolic corrective to the classical Freudian theory, which tends to give the centrepiece to the biological father in the constitution of the self and which underestimates the significance of the mother and language in the process. This paper aims to put under scrutiny how Lacan traces the constitutional processes of ego formation and the fiction of identity using his ideas on the imaginary register, the symbolic and the Law of the Father as the conceptual tools, by underlining his departures from the classical Freudian theory.