Unconscious Structure in Sartre and Lacan

Psychoanalytische Perspectieven 36 (4):469-482 (2018)
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Throughout his career, Jean-Paul Sartre had a contentious theoretical relationship with psychoanalysis. Nowhere is this more evident than in his criticisms of the concept of the unconscious. For him, the unconscious represents a hidden psychological depth that is anathema to the notion of human freedom. In this paper, I argue that Lacan’s conception of the unconscious-structured-like-a-language overcomes many of Sartre’s most damning objections. I demonstrate that Lacan shares with Sartre a concern to rid the psyche of hidden depths. Both thinkers therefore reject the depth psychological conception of the unconscious and arrive at strikingly similar positions on the nature of the unconscious. In this way, I show that the conceptual analogues that Sartre develops in order to avoid the psychoanalytic unconscious lead him to a position on the unconscious with which Lacan could be in agreement. This indicates that Sartre’s philosophical position is not as at odds with Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis as is typically thought.



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Gregory A. Trotter
Marquette University

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