Lacan’s Four Discourses


This is the general schematic for the four discourses outlined by Lacan:
agent/truth → other/(product or loss)

In the upper left-hand corner is the agent, generally a master signifier (analogous to Derrida’s conception of the transcendental signifier). However, the truth of the discourse is located below in the lower left-hand corner. The agent in the given structure of the discourse must mask this truth, and this truth is excluded and in some sense motivates the discourse. The master addresses the other and in the course of the discourse something in the lower right-hand corner is produced (a or objet a, that is the object-cause of desire). Notice how if one starts with the Master’s Discourse, one only needs to make a single rotation counterclockwise to generate the next discourse.

Master’s Discourse:
S1/$ → S2/a

This is the master’s discourse. Imagine a totalitarian leader like Kim Jong Il who is deified in his home country of North Korea as represented by S1. He has to hide the fact that he also is a split subject ($) that has been castrated and alienated in language. The fact that the master is likewise castrated is the truth of the situation. The master subjugates the slave (S2) and puts him to work. The slave produces a surplus-value (a), which the master appropriates from the slave.

University’s Discourse:
S2/S1 → a/$

In the university discourse objective knowledge occupies the place of domination or agent (S2). Everyone in the university prioritizes knowledge as if it is the end all be all. However, Lacan argued that the military-industrial complex or power occupies the position S1, which suggests that knowledge has to hide the fact that it is in service of the government (occupying the place of truth). Knowledge extracts the surplus value (a) from the barred subject ($). The barred subject is produced by the university discourse because knowledge demands that unknowing subject to be alienated in language.

Analyst’s Discourse:
a/S2 → $/S1

In the analytic situation, the enigmatic desire of the analyst (a) occupies the position of agent and motivates the analytic discourse. The desire of the analyst interrogates the analysand as a divided subject ($). The point of analysis is to enable the analysand ($) to reveal the non-sensical master signifiers (S1) that are disrupting the unconscious chain of associations. Ideally, analysis helps dialectize these master signifiers into the analysand’s discourse and put them into relation with other signifiers. Sometimes, the presenting symptom can occupy the position of S1, and it may be quite arbitrary (such as a stutter or a tic). The truth that is hidden by the desire of the analyst is the truth of the unconscious (S2). The analyst must be prudent and interrupt the discourse of the analysand to show the breaks and interruptions that break up the smooth speech of the analysand. The analyst helps unravel this unconscious truth (S2) and present it to the analysand. Ideally, the analysand comes to subjectify this knowledge or as Lacan says, “where the id (knowledge) was there the ego (subject) shall be”.

Hysteric’s Discourse:
$/a → S1/S2

During the analysis, it is likely that the analysand becomes hystericized. The barred subject ($), or analysand, occupies the position of agent. The analysand ($) is motivated by the unknown desire of the analyst (a). The hysteric interrogates the master signifier (S1) in hopes of exposing the incomplete knowledge of the master-analyst. Knowledge (S2) is produced in hysteric’s discourse. The hysteric tends to sexualize knowledge to such an extent that they derive pleasure from the knowledge they gain by the demands they make of the analyst. Recall all of Freud’s hysteric patients like Dora who continued to contradict Freud’s theories constantly attempting to undermine him in analysis.


One Response to “Lacan’s Four Discourses”

  1. Summary of Reinhard’s There is Something of One (God): Lacan and Political Theolog « JRidenour Says:

    […] and God in Lacan, I’d refer you to this post, and for more Lacan’s four discourses go here Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)God is UnconsciousPredicament in Modern TheologyA […]

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