In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Jacques Lacan

  • Introduction
  • Overviews of Lacan
  • Readings of the Seminar
  • Collections of Essays
  • Biographical Context and Criticism
  • Lacan and Feminisms
  • Lacan and Politics
  • Lacan and Culture
  • Lacan and the Subject
  • Lacan and Freud
  • Lacan and Language
  • Lacan and Literature
  • Lacan and Literary Theory
  • Lacan and Film
  • The Lacanian Real
  • Lacan and Žižek
  • Lacan and Derrida
  • Lacan and Clinical Practice
  • Lacan and Philosophy
  • Lacanian Journals

Literary and Critical Theory Jacques Lacan
Eugene O'Brien
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 March 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0034


Jacques Marie Émile Lacan was born on April 13, 1901, and died on September 9, 1981. He was a French psychoanalyst and philosopher and was a very controversial figure on the French psychoanalytic scene. He was a polymathic intellectual presence across a number of fields of human inquiry, whose work has had strong influences on psychiatry, psychoanalysis, philosophy, literary and critical theory, and film studies. He was a presence in the student revolts in 1968, and his work has been increasingly translated into English. A selection from his writings entitled Écrits: A Selection, and a volume from his ongoing seminar series, Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, both published in 1977, and translated by Alan Sheridan, were the books that brought him to the attention of students of literature and theory in the Anglophone world. He gave a seminar in Paris for twenty-seven years, which attracted all of the major intellectual figures of the time, and these books are being translated and published in English on an ongoing basis. His essay on “the mirror stage,” which would become “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience,” delivered in its initial form in 1936 at the Marienbad conference was one of the cornerstones of the popularization of literary and cultural theory and has been widely cited since its appearance in Écrits. His son-in-law, Jacques Alain Miller, is supervising the translations of volumes of the seminar and these, in turn, are generating more critical and hermeneutical commentary as they are published. His work is notoriously gnomic and enigmatic as well as being prone to change as his ideas on core concepts—such as the unconscious, the Other, the phallus, the mirror stage, desire, the drive, and his triadic system of understanding knowledge: the imaginary, the symbolic and the real—all underwent changes over the course of his life and work. His work has become even more influential after his death, with the new full Écrits germinating a secondary literature that is comprehensive and ever-expanding. The publication of each new book of the Seminar also generates sustained critical interest. Jacques Lacan is probably the most influential psychoanalyst since Freud (of the roughly 20,000 psychoanalysts in the world, about half are Lacanians), yet most people know nothing about him.

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