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!


Who was he? Born Jacques-Marie-Émile Lacan in Paris on 13th April1901 into a bourgeois Catholic family (his brother became a priest), he was educated at a Jesuit school. After completing his Baccalauréat, he studied medicine and later psychiatry. In 1927, Lacan commenced clinical training and began to work at psychiatric institutions, meeting and working with (amongst others) the famous psychiatrist Gaetan Gatian de Clerambault. He got his doctorate for a thesis, on paranoid psychosis in1932 and in 1934, he became a member of La Societé Psychoanalytique de Paris (SPP) and commenced a training  analysis broken off at the outbreak of the war. During the Nazi occupation of France, Lacan ceased all official professional activity in protest against those he called “the enemies of human-kind.” Following the war, he re-joined the SPP, and it was in the post-war period that he rose to become a renowned and controversial figure in the international psychoanalytic community, eventually banned in 1962 from the International Psychoanalytic Association for his unorthodox views on analytic training and the practice of psychoanalysis. Lacan’s career as both a theoretician and practitioner did not end with this excommunication, however. In 1963, he founded L’Ecole Freudienne de Paris (EFP), a school devoted to the training of analysts and the practicing of psychoanalysis according to Lacanian stipulations. In 1980, having single-handedly dissolved the EFP, he then constituted the Ecole for “La Cause Freudienne,” saying: “It is up to you to be Lacanians if you wish; I am Freudian.” He died the following year in Paris on September 9, 1981.

In 1953 Lacan inaugurated the seminar series that he went on to hold annually until his death. The seminars provided him the arena in which to develop and systematically revise the ideas which have become identified with his name. Although Lacan was famously ambivalent about publication, the seminars were transcribed by various of his followers, and several have been translated into English. Published and unpublished versions of these seminars are available. Lacan published a selection of his most important essays in 1966 in the collection Ecrits. An abridged version of this text is available in an English-language edition.