Lacan’s persistent emphasis on a ‘return to Freud’ should not be understood as an ideological slogan, as are most returns to an older version of a doctrine are, or as a wish to promote a ‘purer’ or more radical Freudianism. It is primarily a request for French psychoanalysts to start reading Freud. Lacan’s central insight is that if Freud is read literally, the main practitioners of the movement Freud founded under the name of psychoanalysis will realise that he is mainly talking about language and not about ‘instincts’ or ‘depth psychology’ when plumbing the elusive depths of the Unconscious. Here lies Lacan’s revelation, a notion he did not hit upon immediately but crystallised in the early 1950s: language and the Unconscious have a similar structure (with all the misunderstandings that the motto ‘The Unconscious is structured like a language’ can entail). Lacan also set out to read a certain aspect of Freud that had almost disappeared from official psychoanalysis. He first reread the early Freud, who wrote on jokes, dreams and hysteria, a Freud who was caught in statu nascendi as it were, as he invented psychoanalysis out of the wild somatisations exhibited by Vienna’s beautiful hysterics. Lacan also treated the later Freud very seriously, the Freud who wrote about the Spaltung of the subject, about interminable analysis, about culture’s discontents, before finally producing a wonderful ‘historical novel’ about Moses.
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