Tuesday, September 04, 2007

It is impossible to understand anything of Lacan if the anthropology of Levi-Strauss is not fully kept in mind

Levi-Strauss already underlined this in An Introduction to Marcel Mauss, where he argued that different social structures give rise to different types of symptoms. For instance, he argues that schizophrenia is absent in particular types of social systems...
I am not at all in disagreement with Schneider’s apparent argument here, but I find it strange to say the least. The great discovery of ethnography during the last century was that kinship structures and the incest taboo have very little to do with biology. It is impossible to understand anything of Lacan– especially why he introduced the symbolic and the name-of-the-father –if the anthropology of Levi-Strauss is not fully kept in mind. This book as an excellent illustration of the non-biological nature of these social structures:
One of the reasons this society is particularly interesting is that it is both possible and sanctioned for a daughter to mate with her biological brother or father. The reason for this is that the name-of-the-father is operative in this society in a very different way, and, because the child does not know who their father is it becomes possible to mate with one's biological father or brother. Examples such as this are not at all rare in ethnography.
From the Lacanian perspective, very different ethnographies will emerge as a result of these different structurations. For instance, Lacan, in an early essay, argued that neurosis is unique to our contemporary historical moment and absent in totemic society by virtue of the fact that for totemic societies the name-of-the-father is separated from the imaginary father (i.e., the male that assists in childcare) and is instead embodied in the totem (you can’t mate with anyone sharing the same totem in your tribe).
By contrast, in contemporary society the name-of-the-father (the prohibition against incest) and the imaginary father (the male caregiver) are embodied in one and the same person, generating all sorts of conflicts (as the imaginary father simultaneously serves as an ego-ideal and a prohibition of that ideal). According to Lacan, these two differing structural configurations generate very different symptomologies.
I’ve tried to outline some of the problems with American psychotherapeutic practice and its biologism (and neurologism) in previous posts on this blog:
The problem lies in an abstract conception of the individual that divorces it from the symbolic, treating the symbolic as if it had no formative impact on individuals. This comes as no surprise giving the reigning individualist, capitalist ideology in the United States, that renders scientists individuated in this context especially prone to abstraction and a disavowal of the social.

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