The school listening – Didactic points of view according to Jacques Lacan’s lesson

Jacques Lacan
Jacques Lacan – image extracted fromthisURL

This article is a translation by Valentino Valitutti of the original Italian work “La Scuola che ascolta – Prospettive didattiche alla luce del pensiero di Jacques Lacan” published for RadiciDigitali on August 10, 2017.

Jacques Lacan, the great French philosopher, psychiatric, and psychoanalyst who heavily influenced the Twentieth century culture, can teach us a new way to relate to our students: a simple but genial, and in some way revolutionary method.
As a figure of utmost importance in French culture and psychoanalytic movement, Jack Lacan was born on April 13, 1901 in Paris, to a middle-class Catholic family.
After being educated in Stanislas College, where he became interested in the philosopher Spinoza, he approached surrealism, in particular the theorist André Breton, with whom he shared the passion for automatic writing as the result of free mental connections and lingual creativity.
Later, he decided to enrol in medical studies, specializing in psychiatry. In that period Lacan was one of G. Clérambault’s scholars, and the same psychiatrist defined him “our only master in psychiatry”, for being an expert in mental automatism.
At the same time, another of his teachers, Kojève, introduced him to The Phenomenology of Spirit by Hegel.
Before specializing in 1932 with a thesis about the psychoanalytic idea of madness, and starting his therapeutic pathway with Lowenstein, Lacan undertook his traineeship in Sainte Anne’s Hospital, the location of his future Wednesday seminars.
In 1934 he became an enrolled member in the “Societé Psychanalitique de Paris”, and two years later he took part in the Fourteenth International College of Psychoanalysis with the work The Mirror Stage, considered the first step towards a return to Sigmund Freud.
Indeed, Lacan was a strong supporter of “a return to Freud”, whose prestige would arise from the “Copernican Revolution” of the decentralization of the individual.
Moreover, he faced the evolution of Freud’s theories, that were the Orthodox psychoanalysis and the American psychoanalytic movement, whose marked interest in therapeutic aspects would be a degeneration of Freudian lessons.
His criticism about the Orthodox psychoanalysis caused his “expulsion” from the International Psychoanalytic Association, and led him to the foundation of the “École freudienne de Paris”, together with the publication of the periodical Scilicet.
Besides, his well-known dispute against American psychoanalysis led him to go to the USA in 1975 to “cure” the application of the psychoanalytic model in that country.
Lacan’s seminars, from 1953 to 1980, were collected in several volumes, and at the same time they were attended by many famous figures of French philosophy.
Lacan died for a cancer in his natal city on September 9, 1981.
He was influenced in his philosophic and psychoanalytic education and evolution by the contacts and the relationships with important personalities of his time, such as the already mentioned André Breton, Claude Levi-Strauss, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Roman Jacobson, besides Sigmund Freud.

The phases of the construction of the subject: meeting the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real.

Jacques Lacan claims that the subject is born alienated, undefined, and incomplete: he does not speak by himself, but by his unconscious, that is the cradle of the anonymous and independent truth, the opposite of knowledge as dominion of an object.

Consequently, the individual is not the original element of psychic life, but the result of a construction.

  1. The first phase, called the imaginary, covers the period of time from 6 to 18 months, in which the child perceives himself through his own image reflected in the mirror, or through the image of the Other. The child identifies himself with the Other, elaborating an elementary draft of his subjectivity in a dual confused relationship between himself and the Other. This primary identification is the origin of all the future ones, as the child’s desire corresponds to the Other’s desire: primary physiological needs are inseparable and subjected to the Other’s recognition and love, as the child’s desire is structured depending on his main source of sustenance that in Western society is generally the mother.
  1. In the second phase of the individual’s development, called the symbolic, the father imposes the figure of law between the child’s and the mother’s specular desires. His word causes the break of the mother’s desire, the castration: the removal of the imaginary, and the consequent substitution of the child’s first embodiment of love with objects recalling the broken desire are produced by the intervention of the symbolic order, that is the set of preexisting and eternal social conventions, like language. The child is so modified and shaped by language, “the father’s law”: the access to the symbolic order implies the simultaneous entrance into society and culture, that are the essential elements for self-development. Therefore, the individual becomes the voice of a social system even recognized by the mother, identifying himself with an imperceptible and omnipresent invisible common culture. As stated above, the child’s experience of the world is determined by the access to the order of language: the subject perceives the world through the natural language of his community, shaping his own identity on master signifiers, that are the concepts through which the individual identifies himself and organizes the order of reality, giving so a new sense to himself and to the relationship with the Other.
  2. The third phase, the “real” (not to confuse with reality, that is the union of the imaginary and the symbolic), encloses the fringes of the unsaid and the indescribable, that will be unreachable because of the interference of the symbolic: by destroying the fulfilment of the connection with the mother, the father’s law has led the individual to pursue what he does not have, so that the real becomes the unattainable aim, eternally perpetuating the desire. After losing the unity in recognizing himself in the projection of his own external image, born to the layering of socially ideal identifications (master signifiers), the individual supposes the Other has the power to enter the real. Pushed by the father’s prohibition to search for a metonymic substitute of the prime desire, the subject can reach his self-awareness only if he will be able to understand that the Other does not know the nature of master signifiers, and so of the real. The deconstruction of the power of the Other leads the individual to experience personally and subjectively the world, and to free himself from the ideological settling of the society in which he lives.

The paradigms of contemporaneity

In our time, the era of globalization, media, and existential standardization, the production and proliferation of models are activities repeated and reproduced day after day.

The obsession for efficiency, the condition for which there must be just a unique result for a certain expectation, has contributed to the diffusion of standardized images for the contemporary man, as functional as closer to the complete and productive answers required by the structures of knowledge and power in our society.

The paradigm (or better to say, the paradigms) the contemporary man strives for has been created on parameters perfectly according to market rules, to the capacity to produce appropriately and on time what required, eternally reproducing this action till a gradual exhaustion, in order to perpetuate superbly the status quo of contemporaneity: the (bad) repetition of automatics subjected to the logics of globalization and mass technicization.

Therefore, contemporaneity tends to create perfect machines (or at least perfectionable) that are programmed to answer immediately to external inputs, not to investigate the reason (or the reasons) behind the answers, but just to acquiesce automatically to a superior and omniscient system, the only source of (supposed) truths.

Shaping more and more perfect sculptures, the technological promotion of life engendered regularization and discipline in every aspect of society, so creating reference models to follow, conditio sine qua non to be considered “appropriate” to the present historic and social contingency.

As the consequence of the idea and the practice of efficiency, the predominant standard transmits a concept of infallible man, able to face every given situation as expected, or at least able to accumulate more and more notions, in order to solve potential problems.

Such an ideal of perfection banishes as a plague the concepts of mistake, difference, distance from the prevalent standards, and extraneousness to the codified rules of globalization.

Consequently, in the poverty of contemporaneity, scientism, and existential technicization, the identification is shaped through new parameters defined by the globalization symbolism.

The tendency to generalize leads us to remove the differences between the individual and the Other, looking for a fixed and unchangeable identification, able to conceal apparently the subject’s angst: the main area in which such an action holds a very important task is language, the symbolic order conceptualized by Jacques Lacan.

In the society of mass commodification, the father’s law reproduces tight clothes with unmovable tags that prevent movements and also have already been worn by others.

The New Millennium cultural codifications, first of all the language of media, have so engendered a closed and packaged box, in which everyone must recognize himself (not to be excluded) and must draw the rules of good behaviour.

The identification with preselected and idolised models causes the creation of the walking dead in uniforms, consequently perpetuating “the banality of evil”. In other words, being who one is supposed to be, and not who he really is, just to be accepted by society at the price of ignoring his own thoughts, feelings, and desires.

Ragazzi con smartphone
Kids with a smartphone – Image extracted fromthis URL

The habit and the addiction to the precepts of mass media and mass commodification have instilled in human beings the idea that only the elite group of communication can access truth, that real codified by Jacques Lacan.

Therefore, the generalized tendency to improve performances and to incessantly search for perfection in the individual of XXI century arises from the illusion to reach one day the utmost shape, in order to enter the forbidden garden of Eden, of truth, of the real.

The normalizing and propitious standards for identification proposed from above presume the homogenization of the lower class, that is the group of individuals of our time: every departure from rules will be judge a swerve from the perfect immobility of the reference image reflected into the mirror of contemporaneity.

In our epoch, the subject’s duty is to adjust to society, to be flexible, in other words to be reprogrammed, in order to answer the demands of a globalized world: the place in which such a resetting is stronger and more enduring is the school.

The paradigms of contemporaneity in the school

Educational institutes have been promoting for decades an objective model: the image of a student able to answer the learning challenges as required as soon as possible.

The idea of teaching itself withstands logics of profit, as highlighted by the proliferation of closed-ended questions, whose anonymous, quantifiable, scientific, and supposedly impartial evaluation imposes only a possible answer.

So, the student is harnessed in the condition to long for the numerical sublime, that mark 10 indicating not really his inner treasure, or his precious peculiar identity, but just the assimilation of notions given from an invisible yet omnipresent system, in order to reproduce values useful to the society of media and technology.

The image a student must adjust to not to be excluded from the future world of work (and so from reality and life) and from measurable success is a kind of robot, a perfect machine able to answer immediately an external input in the only possible and shared way, with no hope to think about the real reasons behind the final product.

The mark 10 is so the desirable goal to reach first in a daily challenge among artificial racing cars, with neither real price nor future freedom, but just with the illusion to enter one day the temple of the real, of truth, in other words of that nucleus of presumed knowledge able exclusively to make the student happy.

Moreover, why not place side by side the scholar success, which can be measured by the quantity of notions stored up and unconsciously repeated, and the dashing student or the model?

Does it make sense more than ever the motto mens sana in corpore sano, does not it?

Is it not confirmed through mass media projections the idea of the importance to have an attractive and toned appearance as symbol of the discretion to answer brilliantly the contemporary challenges, and as sign of the possibility to pass efficiently the obstacles along the daily path, is it?

The image of the student-model, both scholastically and aesthetically, is everywhere, and it is infinitely reproduced and turned into a fallaciously tangible reality by a superstructure tending to the ideal of profit.

What said implies that the slightest swerve from the contrived preconception generally causes disorientation, demotivation, apathy, and alienation.

In the educational system, the diffusion of an imaginary to embody, in which to mirror one’s own image and figure and in which to identify at all costs, is a common habit useful to reach step by step the real, supposed to be supervised by a superior, untouchable, and invisible institution: the Ministry.

However, the Ministry itself undergoes logics of knowledge and power of the globalized contemporary society, even if most people consider it the deus ex- machina in the process of teaching and learning.

The superior institution of education will adopt a personal code, a specific language, a symbolic order, just to trap the student’s identity into preset categories.

Initially, the student will shape his own identity following the image of the perfect machine, the Other, the device equipped with undeniable answers and an enviable appearance.

Later, he will be shaped mainly by master signifiers, that are the code words created by the worthless intentions of the globalized society, personified in the school system by the regularization and the homogenization of the invisible institution.

Master signifiers like “competence”, “course credit”, “excellence“, “efficiency”, and “profit” are empty and meaningless containers; nevertheless, they hit directly and completely the student, shaping him according to logics that privilege the ability to produce and reproduce something already known anonymously, ignoring the producer’s inner feelings, the student’s creativity.

So, the future citizen of the world will be miserably reduced to a mere trivial machine, to a computer providing an objective and univocal output for a precise input.

Jacques Lacan
Jacques Lacan – image extracted fromthis URL

Didactic points of view according to Jacques Lacan’s lesson

How to free the student from the invisible oppression of the globalized perfect machine, engendering adjustable settings and amazing images to which adapt through a codified language of productivity? What could be the resources to break the chain forged by the contemporary society, in order to free the future citizen of the world from the attempts of homogenization and regularization because of the fear of the misfit, the Other, the ignorant, and the inefficient?

Lacan imparts us an apparently assumed yet precious brilliant idea on the subject in the era of selfishness, envy, inner and external barriers, and false equality: listening to the Other. The Other has not to be considered as the disconnected image of a model to follow incessantly and unconsciously, or as the fetish of consumerism to which the individual tends deceptively to reach for the truth, but as the divergent, the different, the extraneous to the predominant standards in the century of existential commodification. Listening to the Other is the first move to free oneself from social obligations: understanding what the Other wants to communicate is the innocent but strong gesture to engender a true reception of the various identities in the world. We cannot and must not be victims of the consumer philosophy, that hits even, and mainly, the school system; the process of teaching and learning should be reset on the principle of mutual reception and listening, in order to break the yoke of educational politics, insisting on marking every mistake or swerve from rules with the vivid colour of blood.

The student with dyslexia, the foreign student, the student with ADHD, and the student with disability must not be “exiled” from the educational setting, with the miserable intention to leave no trace of divergences from the standard model because of their “inadequacy” to enter a reality of production and reproduction (even of the identity itself). On the other hand, they should be understood, accepted, and included, because the mistake is an essential feature of their personality and a treasure to prevent from the enemy’s goals (in other words, the contemporary society).
First of all, the mistake is attributable to language; it is the chaos of the real, it is the coming out of the right father’s law and of the symbolic order of reality.
According to Lacan, the mistake is a tile of “Lalingua”, that is the set of unbound sprinkled elements unable to shape a linguistic system (the prime rule).
Lalingua is composed of apparently meaningless words, requiring for this reason ears willing to listen to and to understand the Other, with no intention to be misled by a possible mistake and with the capacity to prepare for the acceptance of differences.
Lalingua represents the real, the individual’s own truth, unable to find space in the contemporary symbolic order, in which technology makes everything usable by giving each element a specific function.
Lalingua is the symptom of that creativity repressed by the current normalizing system.

Therefore, listening to and accepting the Other with his passions, aversions, and particulars are the only solutions we can adopt in order to outdistance the false illusion of a globalizing and totalitarian knowledge, that has been determined and prepackaged a priori, and whose only purpose is the reclusion of the individual in the categories of “right” and “wrong”.
And to achieve this goal we must put ourselves in the ignorant’s shoes, in order to learn from and to teach to the Other at the same time and to search together for our individual truths.
An authentic and shared communication, made of revealing words, is the path towards the subject’s truth: openness and joint participation, listening and mutual assistance will be the ways to escape from the alienation of the contemporary globalized world and to find the right direction through creativity and the interchange of our authentic inner feelings.
A major and a minor cannot exist in this process of teaching and learning: both I-the teacher and the Other-the student have the duty and the right to receive and give our feelings, our individualities, and our lives in a path of mutual improvement.
We have so to abandon classroom-taught lessons, promoted by the society of commodification and fetish, in order to unidirectionally instil notions (and, if at all, practical skills) from the superior (the teacher) to the subordinate (the student).

On the other hand, we have to become interested in didactics based on laboratories, conversations, and interactions, thanks to which the student could be the protagonist in foreground in the search for answers to personal doubts, in order to lead him to his truths.

At the same time, the teacher will guide the student silently side by side during his discoveries, he will support the Other in his path of development, and he will simultaneously draw nourishment from the student’s unprecedented steps.
Opening the doors of the individuality to the Other and redefining the identity in relation to the minor, the divergent, the excluded, and the reject: it is a hard move, distant from the comfort and the safety of the stable position of major, as codified by the hardened perverse logics of the contemporary globalized and technological society.
However, this hard move will open the doors to the uncertain, to the unknown, to that dark and frightening space extraneous to social rules, to that breach in the perfect present reality that will become the place of possibility, self-determination, and personal fulfilment.


  • Galimberti F., Gudire. Note sparse su lalingua, in AA.VV., Appunti della Scuola Lacaniana di Psicoanalisi del Campo Freudiano, Bologna, giugno 2012
  • Gamelli I., Una pedagogia a piedi nudi, in “Animazione Sociale”, n.3-2007
  • Lacan J., Scritti, Einaudi, Torino, 1974
  • Lacan J., Il Seminario, Libro I. Gli scritti tecnici di Freud, Einaudi, Torino, 1975
  • Miller J.-A-, Commento del Seminario I di Jacques Lacan, in Di Ciaccia A. (a cura di), Il trionfo della religione, Piccola Biblioteca Einaudi, Torino, 2005
  • Rath C.-D., Insegnare di meno, analizzare di più, in Analisi Laica, marzo 16, 2012
  • Sciara L., Il reale come impossibile da educare, in Psicoanalisi e domanda sociale. Educare all’impossibile?, marzo-aprile 2007

Bibliography online

Author: Valentino Valitutti
Editing: Alessandro Ardigò

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