In taking up the topic of personality in Lacan’s early work, I will begin with a highly schematic account of his comments on personality in his doctoral dissertation originally published in 1932. In his dissertation, Lacan (1980, pp. 36-37) argues against a metaphysical conception of personality, including soul, form and/or substance, as well as against a psychological conception of personality, including “synthesis of our inner experience,” “intentional reality,” and “personal [i.e., ethical] responsibility” (pp. 32-33). He proposes instead a notion of personality based on the dialectical “development of the person” (p. 37). By “dialectical,” I assume he simply means here that the person’s development does not proceed in a fixed direction, but at times hesitates or vacillates between alternatives, changes tack, and so on. “We thus find here a law of evolution [of the person] instead of a psychological synthesis” (p. 38), “a regular and comprehensible development” (p. 39).
Lacan goes on to provide an “objective definition of personality phenomena” (p. 42), which stipulates that if we are to relate a human manifestation to personality, it must involve three things:
1) biographical development—that is, the affective ways the subject reads (i.e., understands) his or her own history;
2) a self-conception which includes dialectical progress (or movement);
3) a tension in social relations—that is, conflict between one’s own autonomy and one’s ethical links with other people.
We can see here, already in the opening pages of his dissertation, that to Lacan personality is not based on a personal synthesis or some sort of psychological unity, which would be synchronic; rather, personality is diachronic in some important sense (p. 43). It is something that is not present all at once but is in fact defined by its very movement and progress, that is, by its meaningful—albeit not necessarily predictable—unfolding over time.
Lacan’s concern with personality here seems to be part of a larger debate over the origins of psychosis (paranoia in particular): Is it biologically determined or psychologically determined? biogenic or psychogenic? constitutional or personality-based?
Personality seems to have often been discussed in the early 1900s in terms of character and Lacan addresses this question: Is paranoia characterological—that is, defined by a series of character traits—or is it, rather, based on life events, being related to the evolution of one’s personality and having an impact on the latter?
Lacan argues, firstly, that there is no unequivocal link between psychosis and a “definable characterological disposition” (p. 53). “What we take at first to be an identity of character [among psychotics] may merely be a formal homology between similar appearances that in fact relate to entirely different structures” (p. 51). Similar traits may, in different people, be the product of very different psychic structures, very different underlying personalities, if you will. We can extend this argument: there is rarely an unequivocal link between a particular personality trait, or symptom even, and a particular psychoanalytic diagnostic structure. The same behavior, character style, or symptom may express or represent something very different in neurosis and perversion or in obsession versus hysteria. (Constipation, for example, is not intrinsically linked to obsession and can be found in virtually every other structural category at one time or another. Narcissism is not inextricably linked to some particular structure—it is found across the diagnostic spectrum.)
Lacan argues, secondly, that “a so-called constitutional characteristic [propriété], when it is a function whose development is linked to the history of the individual, the experiences that make up his history, and the education he undergoes, should only be a priori considered innate in the last resort” (p. 51). In other words, if something in the subject’s personality has meaning to the subject (i.e., he or she sees it as related to his or her history, life events, and/or language) it should first and foremost be considered psychogenic.
His overriding concern is to see not if there is some correlation between paranoia and “a definable characterological, constitutional predisposition,” but rather to see what impact the evolution and semeiology of paranoia have on the personality, personality being defined as a diachronic self-conception that evolves in tension with other people. In other words, his concern is to see what life experiences lead to paranoia and what happens to one’s personality when paranoia is first triggered.
Lacan claims that “right from the outset, German authors recognized a wide variety of character dispositions among those with delusions” (p. 82). This was not so true of the French who were fond of delineating specific character types. (This has a long tradition in French thought, going back at least as far as Charles Fourier’s nineteenth century outline of 810 personality types.) But the traits that defined this paranoid character type among the French were very different depending on which author one consulted! In other words, French psychiatrists could not agree among themselves on what characterized the paranoiac’s character. In the 1950s, Lacan (1993, p. 4) reflects back on his early years in psychiatry and indicates that among the character traits of paranoiacs one found included such vague items as nastiness, intolerance, pridefulness, distrustfulness, excessive sensitivity, and having an overblown sense of oneself.
At one point in his dissertation, Lacan (1980, p. 253) himself seems to drift toward providing a typology of personalities: he says that his patient, Aimée—the main patient discussed in the thesis—has “the salient features” of psychasthenics (Janet) and of sensitive types (Kretschmer). This sort of drift even leads him to talk about the “self-punishing personality” (p. 254). But one can nevertheless understand at the end of this discussion that Lacan is using the term “personality” above all to talk about the psyche as opposed to the organism: “What my research has led to, and let me emphasize this, is a problem that has no meaning except as a function of the personality or, if one prefers to put it this way, as a psychogenic problem” (p. 254).
I would conclude here that Lacan’s reason for adopting the term “personality” is not so much that he is a firm believer in the term, but that he is employing it polemically to combat the then prevalent belief in the biogenic nature of mental illness. It is a shorthand term in his vocabulary for the psyche, and it is quite clear at the end of his dissertation that he understands personality to be composed of the classical psychoanalytic agencies or instances: the id, ego, and superego. It is also quite clear that he does not consider the latter to operate in a harmonious, unified fashion, but rather views them as constituting a conflictual, evolving system.
Driving the last nails into the constitutional coffin, Lacan says that the so-called paranoiac constitution (the supposed set of personality traits of paranoiacs) is often not found in actual cases of paranoia, whereas other “constitutions” (such as psychasthenic and sensitive) are found instead (p. 346).
His general conclusion is that “The key to the nosological, prognostic, and therapeutic problem of paranoid psychosis must be sought in a concrete psychological analysis that is applied to the entire development of the subject’s personality—that is, to the events of his history, to the progress of his conscience, and to his reactions in the social milieu” (p. 346). In other words, the key is something highly individual, akin to the kind of analysis involved in a psychoanalysis!
While he still allows that “organic processes” (biology) may play some role in the genesis of psychosis, and that “life-threatening conflicts” (trauma) may serve as the “efficient cause” (immediate trigger) of psychosis, a third “specific factor” must always be considered which may take the following forms (p. 347):
1) an anomaly of the personality (e.g., the subject’s affective history);
2) an anomaly of the personality’s development;
3) an anomaly of the personality’s functions (infantile fixations at the oral and anal stages).
Overall we can see that Lacan’s major concern in adopting the term “personality” is to combat various tendencies prevalent at the time, including the tendency to attribute all mental illness to biological causes (specific illnesses or problems) or to certain constitutions present from birth, although perhaps evolving over time. His emphasis from the outset is on the importance of development, whether that development is smooth or proceeds by discontinuities; the importance of the subject’s view of him- or herself in understanding that development (in other words, the way the subject reads his or her own history); and the subject’s conflicts with other people. This conception seems to open the door to Lacan’s later multilayered view of the psyche or personality in the L schema.
Lacan’s dissertation was hailed by surrealists and others in the 1930s as a giant step in the direction of seeing psychotics as human beings, not as mutants or diseased patients suffering from a biogenic condition.
Lacan on Lagache
Let us now fast forward twenty-five years and turn to Lacan’s work in Écrits (1966/2006), in particular his paper entitled “Remarks on Daniel Lagache’s Presentation: ‘Psychoanalysis and Personality Structure.’” Daniel Lagache (1903-1972) was the father of clinical psychology in France. He studied philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure, became a physician, and then an analyst, being analyzed by Rudolf Loewenstein, who was also Lacan’s analyst. Lagache became a professor of psychology at the Sorbonne after WW II, and supported the work of his students Laplanche and Pontalis in preparing their well-known dictionary of Freud’s work: The Language of Psychoanalysis (1973). The paper by Lagache that Lacan comments on here (entitled “Psychoanalysis and Personality Structure”) was published in 1961 in La Psychanalyse, a journal directed by Lacan himself. Nevertheless, both Lagache’s paper and Lacan’s commentary on it date back to a conference held in 1958 in the town of Royaumont in France.
According to Lacan, Daniel Lagache’s view of personality directly contradicts Freud’s second topography, which Lacan claims is “not personalist,” meaning that it does not form a harmonious state governed by a “higher synthesis” of some sort, as Lagache would have it.
Lacan (1966/2006, p. 671) reminds us that the root of the term “personality,” persona, means mask; the Etruscan root of the Latin term persona means a theater mask, the kind of mask worn by actors on a stage. Such a mask might be understood to unify a character because it is fixed in expression; it disguises heterogeneity of feeling, ambivalence, and fragmentation, creating instead something singular and monolithic. To talk about personality is thus a lure: it amounts to being taken in by the lure of wholeness, to succumbing to the illusion that a person is or becomes a unified whole. Lacan specifically indicates that two aspects of what Lagache calls personality, Freud’s ideal ego and ego-ideal, do not fuse in any way or come to form a synthetic whole, for the first is an imaginary formation while the second is largely a symbolic formation (p. 672).
In his commentary on Lagache, Lacan presents optical schemas with which to depict the ideal ego and ego-ideal (1966/2006, pp. 673, 674, and 680). I will not go into all the complexities of these diagrams as they would take us very far afield; let me simply note here that in these optical schemas, he shifts the vase from the out-in-the-open position (in Figure 1) to the hidden position (in Figure 2), suggesting perhaps thereby that the container forms something of an illusion (he identifies the vase with the body qua container on page 676 and the flowers with part-objects or object-relations). When we think of the person as a whole or of personality as such, this is an illusion, and this particular illusion is based on our vision of the other who we see as a whole whereas we only see parts of ourselves, unless we can catch a glimpse of ourselves in a mirror—in which case we come to see ourselves as we see other people. This brings about the illusion of unity, of ourselves as forming a harmonious unit of sorts.
Figure 1: Bouasse’s inverted bouquet illusion [copy from Écrits 1966, p. 673]
Figure 2: Lacan’s first optical schema [copy from Écrits 1966, p. 674; change “Miroir” to “Mirror”]
According to Lacan, Lagache “attempts to provide a personalist translation of Freud’s second topography” (p. 678)—that is, Lagache tries to create unity from the diversity of the id, ideal ego, ego-ideal, and superego. Lagache considers the “medium of intersubjectivity” to be not speech, but rather the simple distance between the ideal ego and the ego-ideal.
Lacan suggests, however, that the ego-ideal is the constellation of the insignias of the (parental) Other’s power, the Other’s power “to turn [the subject’s] cry into a call” (p. 679)—that is, to humanize it, to transform it into human language, into the symbolic. “The person truly begins with the per-sona [sona referring to sound, in other words, the voice of the superego], but where does personality begin?” (p. 684). In saying this, Lacan is using “person” as a synonym for “subject,” not as a synonym for “personality.” He seems to be saying here, in other words, that the subject begins as a response to the Other’s booming, resounding voice. It is this voice that turns the subject’s cry into a call, humanizing it. Hence the subject is quite heterogeneous, including as he or she does the Other’s voice within him- or herself.
Let me back up momentarily and try to unpack something Lacan says earlier in his paper on Lagache:
To point out that the persona is a mask is not to indulge in a simple etymological game; it is to evoke the ambiguity of the process by which this notion has managed to assume the value of incarnating a unity that is supposedly affirmed in being.
Now, the first datum of our experience shows us that the figure of the mask, being split, is not symmetrical. To express this in an image, the figure joins together two profiles whose unity is tenable only if the mask remains closed, its discordance nevertheless instructing us to open it. But what about being, if there is nothing behind it? And if there is only a face, what about the persona? (p. 671)
If one has not read Lévi-Strauss’ article “Split Representation in the Art of Asia and America” (1963), one is likely to be lost here, for split masks are not necessarily something we come across every day. Lévi-Strauss points out that Caduveo masks (see the drawing of one such mask in Figure 3) are often split into four quadrants, the symmetry being between the upper right and lower left and lower right and upper left (reminiscent of Lacan’s L and even I schemas). The symmetry is far from perfect even then: in certain cases the opposing quadrants are more complementary than symmetrical. This is more visible in the two-dimensional drawing presented here than in three-dimensional painted faces (see, for example, Lévi-Strauss, 1963, Plates IV, V, and VI after page 251), since in the latter one cannot see the two different profiles perfectly at the same time.
Figure 3: Plate VIII. Caduveo woman’s drawing representing a figure with painted face.
In the Caduveo culture, one is considered “stupid” (an animal) prior to having one’s face painted in such a way; face painting inscribes one in the social order in a particular place, a place based on one’s genealogy and the social rank of one’s family. Spiritual messages are included therein: “it is not just a design etched in the flesh, but all the traditions and philosophy of the race etched in the spirit” (Lévi-Strauss, 1963, p. 257, translation modified). As Lévi-Strauss puts it:
In native thought . . . the design is the face, or rather it creates the face. It is the design that confers upon the face its social being, its human dignity, its spiritual significance. Double representation of the face . . . thus expresses a deeper, more essential splitting—namely, that between the “stupid” biological individual and the social person whom he must incarnate. (p. 259, translation modified)
Hence we see here the social face of the subject, which comprises her ideals and those of her family and group, contrasted with the raw, brute, “stupid” organism which has not yet been brought into and alienated in language. Perhaps we can now begin to understand what Lacan (1966/2006, p. 671) says:
[O]ur experience shows us that the figure of the mask, being split, is not symmetrical. To express this in an image, the figure joins together two profiles whose unity is tenable only if the mask remains closed, its discordance nevertheless instructing us to open it. But what about being, if there is nothing behind it? And if there is only a face, what about the persona?
The latter part of the quote still seems rather opaque, so let us look to another text to see if it can shed any light on this one.
Lacan on Gide
Here is a related passage from Lacan’s article entitled “The Youth of Gide, or the Letter and Desire” (also written in 1958):
Must I, in order to awaken their attention, show [analysts] how to handle a mask that unmasks the face it represents only by splitting in two and that represents this face only by remasking it? And then explain to them that it is when the mask is closed that it composes this face, and when it is open that it splits it? (Lacan, 1966/2006, p. 752)
The Caduveo mask “unmasks the face it represents only by splitting in two” (right and left profiles; area above the nose and area below) and it “represents this face only by remasking it”—the face can only be represented via a mask for there is no representation without a representational system that is something other than the living organism. The opening and closing of the mask might seem to refer to the laying flat of the two different profiles which can never be seen by a human being in the ordinary course of life (as in Figure 3); the closing might seem to refer to each profile as seen separately. But Lévi-Strauss (1963, p. 262) also mentions that there are certain kinds of
masks with flaps (volets) which alternately present several aspects of the totemic ancestor: sometimes peaceful, sometimes angry, sometimes human, sometimes animal. Their role is to offer a series of intermediate forms that assure the transition from symbol to signification, from magic to normal, from supernatural to social. Their function is thus both to mask and unmask. But when it comes to unmasking, it is the mask that—through a sort of reverse split—opens up into two halves, whereas the actor himself splits, in the split representation that aims, as we have seen, to both display and lay flat [faire étalage de] the mask at the expense of its wearer. (Translation modified)
Having read that, I decided I had to find some images of such masks, since Lévi-Strauss did not provide any in that particular article. I came across Lévi-Strauss’ preface to La Voie des Masques, translated as The Way of the Masks, where he cites at length his own 1943 article, “The Art of the Northwest Coast at the American Museum of Natural History,” which Lacan very likely read. In it Lévi-Strauss explicitly mentions the extensive collection of masks made by American Indians of the northwest coast of North America on exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in New York; here is what he had said about those masks in 1943:
For the spectators of the initiation ceremonies, these dance masks—which suddenly open into two flaps (or shutters), allowing one to perceive a second face and sometimes even a third face behind the second, all of which are mysterious and austere—attest to the omnipresence of the supernatural and the proliferation of myths (pp. 11-12).
I then finally managed to find some books that contained pictures of these dance masks. Figures 4 and 5 reproduce just one example from A World of Faces (1978) by Edward Malin.
Figure 4: Family crest mask closed (Plate 27A)
Figure 5: Family crest mask open (Plate 27B)
As you can see from these figures, the outermost mask is often a stylized representation of an animal, fish, or bird, whereas the innermost mask is usually of a human being, ordinarily one’s ancestor, but the innermost mask itself never opens up to reveal the face of the actor himself. Given the relationship between man and his totemic ancestor, we can perhaps now try to understand what Lacan (1966/2006, pp. 751-52) means when he discusses “a mask that unmasks the face it represents only by splitting in two and that represents this face only by remasking it.” We can perhaps also grasp the notion that “it is when the mask is closed that it composes this face, and when it is open that it splits it.” For when such a mask is open, we see quite clear images of the outer mask all around the inner one; we do not see one mask alone: we see the inner one and aspects of the outer mask simultaneously.
Let us consider anew the above-cited passage:
[O]ur experience shows us that the figure of the mask, being split, is not symmetrical. To express this in an image, the figure joins together two profiles whose unity is tenable only if the mask remains closed, its discordance nevertheless instructing us to open it. But what about being, if there is nothing behind it? And if there is only a face, what about the persona? (p. 671)
We certainly never see the person or being behind the mask. We never see anything but a clash of totemic and human visages, and a transition from one to the other, but nevertheless a multiplicity including one’s ancestors—the Other’s thunderous voice that brought us into being—and certain familial identifications: hardly a harmonious whole!
Reich: Confusing the Imaginary and the Symbolic
Pursuing this discussion of Lacan on personality just one step further, I will take up Lacan’s comments on Wilhelm Reich in “Variations on the Standard Treatment” (1966/2006), originally published in 1955. Here Lacan enunciates a sort of “deconstructive” method (avant la lettre), which he often uses: “Let us follow the path of a kind of criticism that puts a text to the test of the very principles it defends” (p. 341). In other words, we apply the principles laid out in the text to the text’s own argument and see what we come up with.
What does Lacan have to say about Reich’s notion of character and character armor? He seems to suggest that the latter is tied up with the imaginary—that is, with the narcissistic image. For he says that the notion of armor suggests a defense against something that is repressed (hence armor is structured like a symptom), whereas what we have here is, rather, an armorial or coat of arms (p. 342). An armorial is a configuration of heraldic signs (see Figure 6), and the latter are designed to visually impress people and display one’s prestige; they are used to determine precedence in public ceremonies obeying a certain protocol, based on social rank. Lacan obviously associates this with display behavior (in reproduction rituals and aggressive territory determinations) in animals.
Figure 6: Coat of arms of the Duke of St. Albans
Although Reich conceptualizes what he is doing in analytic treatment as breaking through the subject’s defenses, Lacan seems to suggest here that at the end of such “treatment” the subject is still carrying around the weight of his defenses; it is simply that the almost symbolic mark which they formerly bore has been effaced. These defenses “play only the role of a medium or material, since they persist after the resolution of the tensions that seemed to motivate them. This medium or material is, no doubt, ordered like the symbolic material of neurosis” (p. 342).
While Reich argues that these defenses disappear in the course of treatment, Lacan’s claim is that they persist: it is simply their origin and lineage that have been effaced, leading Reich to assume that the subject has been freed of them (unbarred?); their mark has been effaced but their weight has not. It would seem to Lacan that the mark should, instead, be considered indelible: it is the mortal mark of death. A family coat of arms brings you into being within a certain tradition or family line, but it also seals your fate: you are destined to die in the service of x, y, or z. According to Lacan, Reich tries to exclude the mortal mark we bear when he refuses to accept Freud’s notion of the death drive.
One might propose that Reich overlooks the fact that the neurotic’s body is overwritten with signifiers. An exaggeratedly erect body posture may, for example, be understood as a phallic signifierness (signifiance); it may alternatively be the incarnation of “uprightness,” suggesting a grafting onto the body of a parent’s moral admonitions or an identification with a parent’s rigid moral stance (see Fink, 2007, pp. 196-98). Reich, on the other hand, seems to take the body as if it were a natural thing (to sit hunched over is viewed by him as a protective phenomenon, as a sign of a self-defensive “character,” as it might be in the animal kingdom, and as we might see it in most human beings who had just been punched in the stomach) or as pure resistance, instead of as manifesting unconscious identifications with one’s ancestors, the taking on of their family crest (blazon, arms, armorial), and so on—in short, as something in which one’s mortal fate has been etched.
What then is Lacan’s “deconstructionist” reading here? Adopting Reich’s principle of interpreting everything as a defensive move, Lacan interprets Reich’s refusal of the death drive—which is a proxy for the symbolic in Lacanian theory—as itself a defense. Just as Reich constantly accuses the analysand of defending him- or herself against the analysis, Reich the analyst is accused by Lacan of defending against analytic theory. As is so often the case, Lacan does not really make the argument here—it is simply suggested . . .
Subjectivity is Essentially Untotalizable
Beyond 1960, one would be hard-pressed to find Lacan use the term “personality” in anything but a pejorative way, ridiculing those who refer to the “total personality” or to personality as a unifying unity (or unit). He repeatedly asserts instead that “There is no unity to the subject” (see, for example, Lacan, 1983) and that the unconscious cannot be understood as some sort of second (evil or malicious) personality. He seems to view the term itself as almost ineluctably tending toward some totalizing view of the human condition, some totalizing view of subjectivity, and thereby overlooking our split subjectivity. The only occasion on which he takes up the word in his own name, he says that “personality is the way in which someone subsists in the face of object a” (Lacan, 1978), object a being viewed by Lacan as precisely what makes us divided subjects.
Edward, M. (1978). A World of Faces. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press.
Erikson, E. (1963). Childhood and Society. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. (First edition published in 1950.)
Fink, B. (2007). Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique: A Lacanian Approach for Practitioners. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.
Fourier. C. (1968). The Passions of the Human Soul. New York: Augustus M. Kelley Publishers.
Lacan, J. (1978). “Discours de Jacques Lacan à l’Université de Milan le 12 mai 1972,” in Lacan in Italia 1953-1978. En Italie Lacan, pp. 32-55. Milan: La Salamandra.
——— (1980). De la Psychose Paranoïaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalité. Paris: Seuil. (Original work published in 1932; all passages from this work have been translated by B. Fink.)
——— (1983). “Interview donnée par Jacques Lacan à François Wahl à propos de la parution des Écrits,” broadcast on the radio on February 8, 1967, and published in the Bulletin de l’Association Freudienne, 3: 6-7.
——— (1989). “Geneva Lecture on the Symptom,” in Analysis 1. (Lecture given in French in 1975.)
——— (1993). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book III: The Psychoses (1955-1956). Edited by J.-A. Miller, translated by R. Grigg. New York-London: W. W. Norton & Co. (Original work published in 1981.)
——— (2006). Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. Translated by B. Fink. New York-London: W. W. Norton & Co. (Original work published in 1966.) [Page numbers given to this work refer to the original pagination of the 1966 French edition provided in the margins of the new English edition.]
Laing, R. D. (1960). The Divided Self. London: Tavistock.
Laplanche, J. and J.-B. Pontalis (1973). The Language of Psychoanalysis. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Lévi-Strauss, C. (1943). “The Art of the Northwest Coast at the American Museum of Natural History,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts: 175-82.
——— (1963). Structural Anthropology. New York: Basic Books. (Original work published in 1958.)
——— (1975). La Voie des Masques. Paris: Plon [in English, Lévi-Strauss, C. (1982) The Way of the Masks. Translated by S. Modelski. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press].
. He seems to integrate the ideas of “intentionality” and “responsibility” into this development, intentionality being understood as the fruit of “education” and as based on “the whole of one’s personal development.”
. These three aspects (development, self-conception, and tension in social relations) are reiterated on page 56 and could, without much difficulty, be situated on the L schema, with a–a´ associated with self-conception and S–A with tension in social relations.
. In the English-speaking world, R. D. Laing is probably more widely believed to have taken this step first, but his Divided Self was first published only in 1960.
. In the “Geneva Lecture on the Symptom,” Lacan (1989, p. 18) comments that “In The Language of Psychoanalysis, Lagache a là gaché [a play on words implying spoiled or ruined] all of psychoanalysis. Well, in fact, it isn’t so bad, I shouldn’t exaggerate. The only thing that probably interested him was to ‘Lagachize’ what I said” (translation modified).
. This illusion can be found, for example, in Erik Erikson’s work on “integration” in Childhood and Society (1963); cf. his eighth stage of development in which the central conflict is “integrity versus despair.”
. As Lacan (1966/2006, p. 675) indicates, according to the optical schema, in order to see i´(a), his ideal ego, the subject must be situated in such a way as to see himself in the cone x´y´—that is, to see himself as i´(a). In this sense he sees himself in the “other” (“form of the other”) seen as a whole there. He only comes to think of himself as a whole because he sees the other as a whole, as a body or container. Note here that i(a) is the real image and that i´(a) is the virtual image; a stands for the part-object, regarding which Lacan says: there is no “ideal totalization of this object” (p. 676).
. In Seminar XXIV, he puts this a little differently, suggesting that the subject begins as a response to S1, a first signifier, which comes from the Other.