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Rendon, M. (1992). Arguing with Lacan: Ego Psychology and Language, by Joseph H. Smith, Yale University Press, 1991, 153 p.. Am. J. Psychoanal., 52(4):381-382.
    

(1992). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 52(4):381-382

Arguing with Lacan: Ego Psychology and Language, by Joseph H. Smith, Yale University Press, 1991, 153 p.

Review by:
Mario Rendon, M.D.

This is a difficult undertaking. The explicit purpose of this book, to try to reconcile Lacan and ego psychology, seems a heroic task. The author is a seasoned psychoanalyst from Washington who shows good command of the psychoanalytic literature, including Lacan. He asserts to have differences with Lacan, but to have also been inspired by him. Reading the book gives the impression that the author has been quite influenced by Lacan, particularly in his use of psychoanalytic language.

The book turns around several hypotheses that are spelled out well in the introduction. The first is that Lacan's main contention, that the unconscious is structured like a language, is a common—although not explicit—principle for Freud, Lacan, and ego psychology. How is this possible? The author's answer is ambiguous and not entirely convincing. He equates language with use of rules and laws, and bases his contention partially on Chomsky's work proposing that the elements of grammar and syntax are not only unconscious but are genetically given. The author makes a good case, but the argument is weak at the point of the link between language and law. For example, he equates Lacan's principle (Ucs structured like a language) with Freud's pleasure principle. Even though there are commonalities in everything structured, the differences in domain outweigh the commonalities. There is a difference between Freud's thermodynamic model and the Saussurean model of signification. Denying this is stretching the facts too far.

Another bone of contention is Lacan's position regarding the ego as a defensive structure that gives a false image of narcissistic unity. The author reiterates throughout the book that there is also a nondefensive ego, and that important achievements of the ego are reached during nonperemptory (nondefensive) moments.

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