One of the facets of psychoanalytic theory is the role of the unconscious and the conscious. In the text, Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice Charles Bressler claims that Freud’s contemporaries viewed the conscious as only observing and recording external reality and claimed that the conscious accounted for the basis of reason and analytical thought while the unconscious merely accumulates and retains our memories (121). Therefore, many psychoanalytic theorists believed that the conscious was solely accountable for our behavior and daily actions (Bressler 121). However, Freud challenged this widely accepted notion by claiming that the unconscious not only stores our memories but also includes our suppressed and unresolved conflicts (Bressler 121). Freud also argued that the unconscious also collects and accrues our hidden desires, ambitions, fears and passions (Bressler 121). Consequently, Freud asserted that the unconscious guides a significant part of our actions and behaviors by amassing disguised truths and hidden desires that want to be exposed through the conscious (Bressler 121).
In Jacques Lacan’s essay “The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason since Freud,” he agrees with Freud’s claims that the unconscious influences our behavior and actions. As a result, Lacan created three different categories to explain the transformation from infant to adulthood, namely need, demand, and desire and labeled these three psychoanalytic orders, as the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real stage.
Lacan claims that during the Symbolic stage the child is initiated to language, and the unconscious and repression appear in the psyche. The child now learns that words symbolize objects, and he must use language and not images in order to acquire what he desires. For Lacan, the child, as well as adults, wants to return to the imaginary stage which is represented by the Real. However, this desire cannot be realized because the subject has been introduced to the next stage which is language. During this stage, the child then discovers that he can ask for something metaphorically or metonymically. According to Lacan, metonymy is a mode of symbolization of displacement and is used by the unconscious as means to foil censorship (Richter 1021,1055). On the other hand, Lacan explains that metaphor is a mode of symbolization of condensation in which one symbol represents a whole series of associations (Richter 1021).
Because Lacan’s dialectic of desire is based on one object symbolizing another, which is only a substitute for another, Lacan argues that the unconscious is shaped like the structure of language (Richter 1021). Language, for Lacan, does not form our identities and desire so much as our identities and desires are developed from language (Richter 1046). Lacan further explains that during the Symbolic stage, the father figure dominates the Symbolic order and he represents the cultural norms as...