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Brody, E.B. (1987). Rethinking the Unconscious: The Unacknowledged Contribution of Edward Sapir to Claude Lévi-Strauss and Jacques Lacan. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 68:465-474.

(1987). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 68:465-474

Rethinking the Unconscious: The Unacknowledged Contribution of Edward Sapir to Claude Lévi-Strauss and Jacques Lacan

Eugene B. Brody


Sapir defined the human unconscious as a mechanism (based on phonemes learned during language acquisition) which imposes linguistic forms upon out-of-awareness 'psychic content' or 'elements of experience', rather than as a repository of repressed impulses or ideas striving for expression. In contemporary terms this activity may be regarded as unconscious information processing prequisite to experiential residues becoming available to conscious attention. It also imposes (as in 'projecting') the observer's cultural forms, modified by developmental experience, upon communications from others. This view antedates Lévi-Strauss' unconscious which 'transforms' elements of the past 'into language' and Lacan's unconscious structured 'like a language'. The clinical psychoanalytic study of out-of-awareness mental processes, understood as a dialectic shaped by the discrepancy in power between analyst and patient, illuminates the unstable relationship between the words or signifiers selected by the patient from the infinite lexicon of available, usually socially shared, verbal or non-verbal language (his plane of expression) and his varied preconscious collections of signifieds, including cultural as well as personal developmental knowledge (his plane of content).

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