A Study of Lacan’s Concept of Self and Other in Donald Barthelme’s Story “Margins”

A Study of Lacan’s Concept of Self and Other in Donald Barthelme’s Story “Margins”

January 2015


Abstract three

1. Introduction 1

2. Freud and Psychoanalytic Criticism 2

3. Jacques Lacan’s Concept of Self and Other 3

4. Centers and Margins 5

5. Decision 6

Bibliography 8


Jacques Lacan’s construct of ego and other, shows that each individual considers him/herself as the ego or the most of import one and the remainder of the people as others. This constructed ego is the merchandise of other’s positions which are by extension the society and culture’s positions, and because these element map in the system of linguistic communication, so this constructed ego is a lingual merchandise. Lacan’s attack is the consequence of adding the 3rd component of linguistic communication to Sigmund Freud’s theories of mind and gender. This essay tries to use the above-named construct of Lacan, to Donald Barthelme’s short narrative, “Margins” which was published in the aggregation of narratives namedSixty Narrativesin 2003. It is the narrative of two work forces: Edward and Carl. The group that Edward represents ( the ego ) , takes the ego and other standards for granted and Acts of the Apostless in a manner as if nil is more obvious than it, and the group that Carl represents ( the other ) , does non even inquiries the standards that is responsible for its marginalisation. The narrative depicts the extent to which the standard of ego and other has dominated the outlook of both groups.

Keywords: Self and other, Psyche, Gender, Law of linguistic communication

1. Introduction

The application of psychoanalytical attack to literary plants, happened about instantly after the development of depth psychology by Sigmund Freud. This attack is non limited to Freud’s theories ; one can state that it merely has begun with him. Freud was the first 1 who counted the unconscious or ‘id’ responsible for all human activities, and introduced it as a dwelling topographic point for human’s repressed desires, that could non go through through the filter of ‘ego’ and ‘superego’ . Freud and the first coevals of psychoanalytic critics were largely concerned with the mind of writer and saw the nonliteral linguistic communication as the representation of author’s repressed desires and feelings. The accent of psychoanalytic attack shifted from the mind of writer to that of the text and reader. This displacement revealed the unfulfilled consequence of ‘language’ . Jacques Lacan added this freshly realized component to Freud’s theories and presented three phases that through them, an baby reaches childhood stage. These phases are: ‘real or pre-oedipal stage’ , in which there is no sense of individuality, ‘imaginary or mirror stage’ , in which the individuality is formed, and ‘symbolic or the oedipal stage’ , in which the formed individuality gives in to the jurisprudence of the male parent.

This essay’s focal point is on the mirror phase and oedipal phase in Donald Barthelme’s short narrative “Margins” . In the mirror phase Lacan explains how one’s single ego is synthesized from other’s positions. This corporate position that constructs the ego, is the consequence of many elements, such as society and civilization. These elements are working inside the system of linguistic communication so the constructed ego is first and first lingual in nature. In oedipal phase, he sheds some visible radiation on the procedure through which the synthesized ego unconsciously accepts ‘the jurisprudence of the father’ or the jurisprudence of linguistic communication that includes societal and cultural conventions as good. In the oedipal phase, we can besides see how the Torahs and conventions that were unconsciously accepted, are consciously followed and anything which does non travel in line with them, would be considered fringy.

In “Margins” , Edward as a white and likely Christian adult male represents ‘the self’ and Carl as a Negro who were in gaol represents ‘the other’ or the fringy group. Edward’s behavior toward Carl, shows the extent to which the society, has accepted and followed these norms and conventions. It is as if these unwritten Torahs, have become portion of the corporate unconscious of both ego and fringy groups.

2. Freud and Psychoanalytic Criticism

The chief inquiry which is posed when we approach psychoanalytic unfavorable judgment is: what does it intend and where does it come from? Psychoanalytical reading has been practiced since the early development of depth psychology which begun by Sigmund Freud and was chiefly concerned with a portion of human head whose contents are unknown to us at a witting degree: ‘the unconscious mind’ . Freud’s attack was groundbreaking in the sense that he recognized the unconscious head as the chief urge behind all human activities. He radically questioned the positions that existed at that clip about the nature of human head.

Previously many minds, taking their lead from the Gallic philosopher, Rene Descartes, had believed that, whatever our uncertainties about the nature of external world, we knew with complete lucidity the contents of our ain heads. Freud disabused them of this semblance. Not merely is there an unconscious, a portion of the head to which we have no witting entree, but unconscious irrational forces inform our idea and behaviour in ways of which we are incognizant. We know non what we do. ( Rob Lapsley 2006: 67 )

Before Freud, the philosophers and critics took their cognition of human’s head for granted, so they became obsessed with the outer universe or the alleged external world, but Freud showed the fact that, what we know about our head is merely the tip of the iceberg and that deeper portion which he called the unconscious, non merely exists, but it is the force behind most of our activities.

Freud divided human’s head in to two parts ; the witting and rational portion or ‘ego’ and the unconscious and irrational portion or ‘id’ . ‘Superego’ or the projection of Ego, which mostly comes from outside, was another term suggested by him sing human’s head. Freud’s ‘theory of repression’ shows how ego and superego map as filters and quash our irrational desires, which are normally sexual, and force them toward our unconscious head. For him these desires, that self-importance and superego are seeking to quash, although irrational and sexual are non unnatural. As an illustration, he believed that the oedipal phase is every bit old as the history of world and it will ever be a portion of their lives. Although desires of this nature are powerful, they are non every bit strong as the conventions that call them unnatural so in this sense they are defeated but harmonizing to Freud: “the repressed ever returns but in cloaked signifiers: in dreams, in linguistic communication ( faux pass of lingua ) , in symptoms, in art and in neurotic behavior” ( californium. Freud 1913 ) . So these ignored elements are ever contending back and seeking to turn out their being through the above-named indirect ways. Among these mechanisms, dream is the 1 that the literary work is compared to. Like dreams, literary plants are creative activities of the head and the head concretizes this creative activity through the usage of linguistic communication. The head hides its wants and frights in the actual surface of a work through nonliteral linguistic communication, and these concealed elements need careful attending in order to be revealed. It is the occupation of a psychoanalytic critic to pay the needed careful attending and somehow decode these codifications.

The first coevalss of psychoanalytic critics tended to read a literary work in footings of the mind of the writer. They believed all elements such as symbols, metaphors, metonyms, characters, scenes, etc. are of import because they reveal author’s unconscious head and pent-up desires. Other critics tried to switch the accent from the mind of the writer to the psychological science of the readers and the text. They have broaden this field because once we consider the mind of the text, 1000000s of other possibilities are added to the array of author’s unconscious head. Once the words are written by the writer, we will hold the act of the words that is when the words become alive and exist autonomously. This already drawn-out field will be even larger when we inject each reader’s distinguishable mechanism of reading into it.

3. Jacques Lacan’s Concept of Self and Other

Lacan added component of linguistic communication to Freud’s theory. For him the passage from babyhood to childhood consists of three phases. In the ‘real or pre-oedipal stage’ , the baby has no sense of individuality and separation. It can non talk and it is capable to thrusts and desires. In the ‘imaginary or mirror stage’ , the kid starts to see itself and other people as independent egos. In this phase the kid comes to see him/herself from the point of view of the others. In the ‘symbolic or the oedipal stage’ , the kid enters the universe of linguistic communication. For Lacan, linguistic communication is non separate from other elements such as society and civilization, in fact linguistic communication shapes these other elements so the kid through come ining the linguistic communication, is besides come ining societal and cultural systems.

When we look at a mirror, can we state that the individual in the mirror, is the same as us? Harmonizing to Hans Bertens:

In the ‘mirror stage’ we are confronted with the ‘mirror’ image that the universe gives back to us. But that image, merely like the image that we see in an existent mirror, is a deformation that leads to a ‘misrecognition’ . Still, that misrecognition is the footing for what we see as our individuality. For Lacan, we need the response and acknowledgment of others and of the Other to get at what we experience as our individuality. ( Bertens 2008: 126 )

So our individuality is created in relation to others. Those ‘others’ are working in the societal and cultural systems so they are parts of the larger frame of linguistic communication. We are hence devised in linguistic communication and our individuality is a lingual concept. The word concept is really of import here because a concept is the synthesis of other elements and can ever be deconstructed.

As it was antecedently mentioned, the complex number or the mirror phase is the period in which the kid starts building his/her individuality or ‘ego’ , based on other people’s thoughts and point of views. There is a mutual relationship between the system of other’s point of views and the linguistic communication as a universe, which has in itself the societal and cultural microcosms. They lead to one another, so linguistic communication constructs this corporate position and this corporate position concepts linguistic communication. What Lacan wanted to state is that the alleged incorporate and consistent ‘ego’ is nil but a fiction, which is constructed harmonizing to this mutual relationship. This fictional ego that is created by each individual, will give in to what Lacan calls ‘the jurisprudence of the father’ and will digest people and actions every bit long as they will be appropriate harmonizing to this jurisprudence. The things that does non belong to this jurisprudence will automatically be regarded as strange and unusual. To set it in other footings, ‘nom du pere or the jurisprudence of the father’ maps as a well-established criterion that rejects the value of anything that goes against it. For illustration in a society that the bulk of people are Christians, a Muslim is considered unusual by the established criterion that is Christianity. So in this society all Christians are considered as ‘self’ and the trusters of other faiths as ‘other’ and this other is ever marginalized. Great trades of attempts have been made to deconstruct these unwritten Torahs, but it seems that these Torahs are far more interlacing in our unconscious and witting head, than we might recognize.

4. Centers and Margins

Donald Barthelme’s short narrative “Margins” , is about Carl, a Negro whose full name is Carl Maria von Weber, standing on 14th St. near Broadway, have oning a sandwich board inquiring for money. His friend, Edward, a white adult male, analyzes Carl’s script and the borders on the sandwich board. Edward puts on the sandwich board so that Carl can travel into a shop and utilize the bathroom. When Carl returns the two work forces slap each other aggressively in the face. In this narrative through what Edward says and the reactions of Carl, we can understand the extent to which the standard of ego and other has penetrated this society. One examples of this standard in the narrative, is the colour of tegument, with white people as ‘the self’ and black people as ‘the other’ .

“Do you think I’m a pretty colour? ” Edward asked. “Are you covetous? ”

“No, ” Carl said. “Not envious.”

“See? Exaggeration and egoism. Just like I said.”

“You’re sort of drilling, Edward. To state you the truth.”

Edward thought about this for a minute. Then he said: “But I’m white.”

[ … ]

“Carl, I’m a sap, ” Edward said all of a sudden.

“Yes, ” Carl said.

“But I’m awhitesap, ” Edward said. “That’s what’s so lovely about me.” ( Barthelme 2003: 3 )

The fact that Edward thinks Carl should envy him because he is white, shows that he considers himself superior and privileged for the colour of his tegument. It is all right that Edward is a sap, every bit long as he is a white one, and Carl despite the here and so oppugning of these unwritten Torahs, really has given in to them, as he admits that “You are lovely, Edward” Carl said. “It’s true. You have a nice expression. Your facet is good” ( ibid. : 3 ) . Carl is well-read and well-spoken ( Edward admits it ‘despondently’ ) , but every bit long as you are non in line with the established values, nil counts. Edward by inquiring the inquiry, “Are you a Muslim? ” ( ibid. : 2 ) from Carl, establishes another of these norms, the criterion of faith.

The members of the self-group are disturbed by members of the fringy group and want to command them.

“Why are you disquieted, Edward? Why does my state of affairs hurt you? Why don’t you walk off and speak to person else? ”

“You bother me, ” Edward confessed. I keep seeking to perforate your interior world, to happen out what it is. Isn’t that funny? ” ( ibid. : 3 ) .

The bulk wants to command the minority but they do non desire to transform them and do them a portion of the self-society because they think such transmutation is non possible. In other footings, these Torahs are so profoundly rooted in us that the idea of stepping outside of their bounds is neither easy nor desirable. Such transmutation may go on on a surface degree as Edward wants Carl to better his script and borders, but non on the deeper degrees.

“Listen Carl, ” Edward said, “Why don’t you merely concentrate on bettering your handwriting.”

“My character, you mean.”

“No, ” Edward said, “don’t bother bettering your character. Just better your script. [ … ] Watch your word spacing so as non to expose freak out. Watch your margins” ( ibid. : 5 ) .

The fact that Carl as a member of the other- society has a fringy map in Edward’s self-society is straight mentioned in the narrative. “ [ … ] Your feelings that it’s colder here likely merely arises from your fringy position as a detested individual in our society” ( ibid. : 4 ) .

Throughout the narrative, Edward talks about these norms and applies them, as if they are obvious and everyday like. What is more lurid nevertheless is, Carl’s reactions or instead his deficiency of action to Edward’s negotiations and behaviours. Surprisingly, at the terminal of the narrative the two work forces slap each other aggressively without any evident ground. This might be an illustration of both Edward and Carl’s repressed desires ; Carl’s desire to stand against Edward and by extension the unwritten Torahs that he represents and Edward’s desire to halt the speaking and make what he wanted to make all along.

5. Decision

Whereas Freud believed the unconscious to be the chief motivation behind all individual’s activities, Lacan considered it as a lingual phenomenon, which enfolds many other elements such as society and civilization. So we have a corporate unconscious that is linguistically devised and works under the bids of linguistic communication and its elements, which create a set of norms and build the image of what is acceptable and usual. In the ‘pre-oedipal stage’ we are hunted by our ain desires and wants, so we are what ourselves. In the ‘mirror stage’ when we realize our separate individuality but are erroneously told that we and the image in the mirror are one and the same, we unconsciously become ready to take the image in the mirror as our ain individuality. In the ‘oedipal stage’ , the image in the mirror is replaced by what Lacan calls ‘the jurisprudence of the father’ , and we consciously give up our ain ‘self’ in return of being a portion of the corporate ‘self’ . We do it because we are cognizant of the effect that follows if we resist giving in to it, and that is marginalisation. Whatever that is non the ego is against it, so it will be marginalized. The scaring facet of these unwritten Torahs is that they force the minority to be the fringy group, and they besides force the cardinal group to compare themselves with the fringy group and be happy that they are non in their place. They fix this thought in their outlook to the extent that neither of the groups dare to even believe about traveling beyond them. In “Margins” neither Carl nor Edward are satisfied with their lives.

“This eschatological live, ” Edward said, “what sort of love is that? ”

“That is subsequently love, ” Carl said. “That’s what I call it, anyway. That’s love on the other side of the Jordan. The term refers to a set of conditions which … It’s sort of a narrative we black people tell to ourselves to do ourselves happy.” ( ibid. : 4 )

Carl and all black people someway know about their fringy state of affairs because of their colour of tegument, but they are lenifying themselves by the usage of things such as narratives. The state of affairs is different for Edward, but he is non content with his state of affairs either. “My life, ” Edward said. “Why do you remind me of it? ” “Edward, you’re non satisfied with your life! I thought white lives werenice! ” Carl said, surprised. “I love that word ‘nice.’ It makes me so happy” ( ibid. : 5 ) .

These Torahs are rooted non merely in individual’s unconscious head, but in the corporate unconscious of societies, so seeking to deconstruct and alter them will ensue in deconstructing and altering the corporate unconscious of societies every bit good as that of persons. A inquiry which can be posed here is that can we deconstruct these Torahs and by extension our unconsciousness?


1. Primary Literature

Barthelme, Donald. 2003. Sixty Stories. London: Penguin Books Ltd.

2. Secondary Beginnings

Bertens, Hans. 2008.Literary Theory The Basicss. Oxon: Routledge.

Freud, Sigmund. 1913.The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Lapsley, Rob. 2006. “Psychoanalytic Criticism.” In: Simon Malpas and Paul Wake ( explosive detection systems. ) :The Routledge Companion To Critical Theory. London/New York: Routledge. 66-80.

July 29, 2017