Alienation, the Subject/Object Dichotomy, and Personality Development

Jaques Lacan argued that alienation is a necessary condition for any true, autonomous subject. To make a long story short, Lacan conceptualized that our identities are in continuous flux and are permanently unstable. This is due to the subject/object dichotomy created by consciousness (a cosmic catastrophe for Lacan). In other words, the fact that I witness the object means that I am forever separate from it.

The result that we can never fully comprehend our own selves; much less other people - and especially not "reality" as it exists outside of our conscious experience. It also means that our desires can *never* be satiated, since we can never fully grasp that which would satisfy us.

This comes off as very bleak and pessimistic. But, Lacan had a way of twisting things around. In fact, this is the goal of Lacanian psychoanalysis - to push the individual to actively embrace the status of perpetual uncertainty and engage it as a source of emancipation from societal norms. This is explained as "traversing the fantasy," since we live our lives as a series of investments into a story about how we will permanently satiate our desires and find inner peace (which of course, never plays out for Lacan).

Now, this idea raises an interesting confrontation with the notion of higher states of consciousness. To summarize briefly, Lacan's concept of subjectivity stands in absolute contradiction to any robust notion of enlightenment. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, for example, explains the highest form of enlightenment as a unification of the subject/object dichotomy, in which all desires are satiated before they are ever experienced.

This seventh state of consciousness could very well be called the unified state of consciousness because in that state, the ultimate value of the object, infinite and unmanifest, is made lively when the conscious mind, being lively in the unbounded value of awareness, falls on the object. The object is cognized in terms of the pure subjective value of unbounded, unmanifest awareness. . . . In this unified state of consciousness, the experiencer and the object of experiences have both been brought to the same level of infinite value, and this encompasses the entire phenomenon of perception and action as well (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi 1972 - 1).

So, on the one hand there is Lacan, who argues that true subjective engagement - embracing the insatiability of desire and the radical subject/object dichotomy - is the highest goal of personality development. On the other, we have Maharishi who insists that enlightenment is the ultimate resolution of desire; a unification of the subject and object into a state of perpetual harmony.

This is exactly why Lacan was opposed to hierarchical models of personality - because they portrayed an ideal picture of the individual which is imposed upon from the outside. Freud rejected the idea of imposing the beliefs of the analyst upon the patient after his brief confrontation with hypnotherapy, in which he was able to directly tinker with the mind of the patient.

In fact, this is a distinguishing difference between psychotherapy and psychoanalysis: The psychotherapist attempts to modify the patient to better fit into the norms of society and be more successful; the psychoanalyst pushes the patient into a direct confrontation with the inadequacy of both personal and societal value systems altogether. The analyst fully acknowledges their inability to directly help the patient cope with their problems. Instead, he/she opens a new opportunity for liberation for the patient - in embracing the perpetual insatiability of desire. In a world of conformity, it is no wonder that psychoanalysis has lost popularity in favor of psychotherapy and consciousness-altering prescription drugs.

Where do you land in this debate? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

1. Yogi, Maharishi Mahesh. The Science of Creative Intelligence: Knowledge and Experience. Los Angeles: Maharishi International UP, 1972. Print.

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