I am still caught up with Lacan’s extrapolation of the unconscious from his earlier lectures. Perhaps my attraction (or repulsion?) to the unconscious comes from my own preconceptions of this term.
To begin I just want describe my preconception of “the unconscious” and then juxtapose my preconceptions with a specific description of the unconscious from Lacan.
Like many people (I assume), I tend to conceive of the unconscious as synonymous with some kind subliminal, or covert, cognitive state that is essentially identical with a conscious cognitive state but operating at a level just out of my immediate (i.e. “conscious”) grasp. I also think of the unconscious as playing a decisive role in structuring my conscious acts and desires.
Furthermore, my conception of the unconscious also seems to carry two key characteristics: self-identity and spatiality. When I say “self-identity” I mean it in both senses of the term. My unconscious is in some way identical/constitutive to my-self and it is also identical to it-self as a thing or substance that is locatable or classifiable in some way, which leads to the second characteristic. Because I conceive of the unconscious as a self-identical substance, I also presuppose its ability to inhabit a particular space, and not only that (if I am being entirely honest), I tend to isolate this space almost exclusively in the brain, an organ that Lacan seems to have very little interest in (at least in this seminar).
Unsurprisingly, I can conclude from this description that my notion of the unconscious has been colored by my encounters with it in various contexts, and because the unconscious is such an important term for psychoanalysis (“being the most essential” as Lacan puts it), it seems important to revise these (mis)conceptions in accordance with Lacan’s descriptions (29).
In his lecture “On the Subject of Certainty” (as well as throughout his entire seminar), Lacan posits a variety of descriptors in conjunction with the unconscious. He refers to it as a “gap,” “pre-ontological,” the “unrealized,” and often moves switches imperceptibly from his description of the unconscious to “desire.”
However, Lacan eventually settles on a clear articulation of three aspects (albeit negative ones) of the unconscious. Lacan writes, “what happens there is inaccessible to contradiction, to spatio-temporal location and also to the function of time” (31).
Lacan’s first quality of the unconscious as “inaccessible to contradiction” seems to complicate my initial formulation of the unconscious as a cognitive state roughly equivalent to the function of consciousness. For it seems that contradiction is one of the foundational principles of conscious subjectivity, its presence granting our rational minds the authority to reject, and thus settle on, particular concepts or claims about the world and ourselves.
In addition, if the unconscious is separate from the constraints of space and time, this would run counter to not only my conception of its presence in the brain but its presence anywhere, even in the body. Although difficult for me to grasp at the moment, the unconscious does not function according the presence/absence binary that I apply to most entities.
When I first approached this text, I assumed that Lacan would present a very clear definition of what exactly the unconscious is. However, since it doesn’t seem like this is going to happen, I will have to trust Lacan and assume that understanding a precise definition of the properties of the unconscious are not as important as understanding how the unconscious functions within his analytic system.After some feedback from Ulmer, it seems that the instruction to be drawn from this section would be to suspend the conscious processes of induction and deduction in favor of the “primary processes” of conduction and inference in formulating the role of the unconscious in our electrate metaphysics.