Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) was a French Psychoanalyst who revitalised Freudian psychoanalytic theory, training and practice.
Echoing something of our sentiment here, that whether we know it or not we are all Freudians, Jacques Lacan, at the height of his renown in 1980 having a massive following, famously declared even up to the year before his death, ‘You lot can be Lacanians if you want; me, I am Freudian!’ It was his way of distancing himself from the Master position that those following his teaching seminars wanted him to occupy. It was also a way to assert his continuing lifelong intellectual debt to Freud. Lacan rose to become a major intellectual force in France through what he called his ‘Return to Freud’. He went back to Freud’s works and gave them what is probably the closest ever reading, working through all of the struggles within them to enrich and revitalise those markers of Freud’s thoughts in full movement. In so doing he rescued them from their use as ‘received texts’ supporting doctrinaire dogmatic schools of psychoanalysis. Lacan knew the same thing would inevitably happen to his own theoretical formulations. He was not going to help it along!
His first major contribution to psychoanalytic theory was his consideration of the Mirror Stage, using it to develop his theory of the imaginary which he put to work to show how the notion of ‘I’ appears, as well as paranoia, aggressivity and alienation. Later he would introduce a novel tripartite interlacing of the Imaginary, Real and Symbolic to account for subjectivity and also the symptom. The phrase he is best known for is ‘The Unconscious is structured like a language’, fuelling his emphasis on man as a speaking-being. He was well-known for his own punning style of speaking his native French and for his eccentric presentation and flamboyant public persona. Polar opposite to Freud!