Lacan, Foucault, Sedgwick, Binary

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 28 September 2016

Lacan, Foucault, Sedgwick, Binary

The world consists of a collection of dual concepts. Things either are or they are not, especially at the level of conception. One is either alive or dead; there are no in-betweens with this notion. In the essay, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as revealed in Psychoanalytical Experience,” Jacques Lacan describes a certain binary that takes place, and interacts, within a child as soon as they learn to recognize their own image. Lacan’s recognition of this initial dualism that takes place in an infant, leads to the recognition of several other dualisms.

Michel Foucault speaks of a binary when speaking of sex and sexuality in chapter one of “The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, an Introduction. ” In the second Axiom from “Epistemology of the Closet,” Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick discusses the heterosexual and homosexual dichotomy. Lacan believes that after eighteen months, a child discovers its libidinal dynamism (1286). Libidinal means psychic and emotional energy associated with instinctual biological drives. Dynamism means active and interactive movement. Through action and interaction with its psychic and emotional energy, instinctual biological drives in a child’s mind.

It is through this dual and cooperative interaction between the physical and metaphysical, in the mirror, that a child begins to form identification with itself and its reflection. Via this reflection, the child will see its body as “Gesalt,” a collection of parts of the whole (Lacan 1286). The child views the sum of its biological, physical, and psychological bodies as an entire unit; being made up of several different parts, and at the same time just a singular object. The child recognizes and views its reflection in relation to its surroundings, i. e. urniture, itself, its mother, yet this realization that unites the child’s parts to form a singular I. This mental permanence, meaning the child will permanently see itself as I, is what will alienate others due its large singular view of itself, and not a view as part of a whole. With the child’s actualization of its image and that it can be seen and interpreted, it shall then recognize a binary of physical reality and dream reality.

The dream realm is a reality of sorts, in the sense that it is real because it is experienced. That dream realm is then filled with not nly the child’s own image, but the image of the physical world it inhabits while awake. This I image is thus residing in the spectrums of this binary where its realities exist both in the physical world and in the mental world. The mirror stage itself is an entire dualistic concept. On one hand, it marks the initial conception of self-actualization, while on the other, maps the libidinal normalization process. Foucault outlines the history of sex in terms of children, how they communicate it, who discusses it, and where it resides in the binary.

Children have for many years had a “freedom of language” with their mentors in relation to sex (Foucault 1654). This is to say that there was less shame in the attitude towards sex. It was a very openly discussed topic outside the realm of perversion and deviance. It was not until the seventeenth century that the French bourgeoisie placed a censorship on all speech that was of sexual manner. Children, across all social classes, gradually became more silent in regards to their sexuality (Foucault 1654). This notion of silence is where duality comes into to play, or lack thereof.

Foucault defines silence as “the things one declines to say, or is forbidden to name, the discretion that is required between different speakers,” (1654). Foucault views silence as a non-passive action, even if it may appear to be doing nothing. One can convey a message just as effectively, and arguably more, by remaining silent than actually speaking. Silence is something that functions alongside speech in such a way that it becomes difficult to differentiate the two in terms of the outcomes they produce.

Foucault acknowledges this lack of binary by stating that there is “no division to be made between what one says and what one does not say” (1654). In terms of the government enforced censorship on sexuality and speech during the 1600’s, this silence surrounding sexuality spoke volumes more than explicit dialogue about it. During this time another binary became prevalent, the public and the private. While the people remained relatively silent in public, they were conversing greatly privately. In the 1700’s this silence “multiplied the forms of discourse” on the subject of sex (Foucault 1655).

The topic of children sex exploded with many participants partaking in the discussion. There was a great market for this discourse on sex that included the realms of medicine and politics, often interweaving the two. The topic of sex was forced out of the private realm into the public. Foucault says that sex has become something society cannot speak enough about, that “[society] convinced [itself] that [they] have never said enough on the subject,” throwing society onto a perpetual search for answers (1657). The sexual realm does not reside in the binary of public and private, of being secret or outspoken, yet resides in both.

It is because of this need for secrecy that sex has taken such a firm place outside of being a secret. Foucault says society teeters on the middle of the binary system of public and private, that society has “consigned sex to a shadow existence, but that they dedicated themselves to speaking of it ad infinitum, while exploiting it as the secret” (1658). The history of sex is a prime example of a concept being able to reside in the realms of the public and private binaries, and at the same time residing in neither.

Sedgwick claims that sexuality lies in a realm separate than that of gender. She defines chromosomal sex as that of biology that follows the strict XX and XY chromosome pattern of distinction among Homo Sapiens (Sedgwick 2439). She defines gender as an elaborate and rigid social production that strictly serves the binary of only male and female (Sedgwick 2439). She then defines sexuality as an array of acts, expectations, narratives, pleasures, identity-formations, and knowledge, in both women and men that focus on genital sensations, but not adequately defined by them (Sedgwick 2440).

She states that gender is only one dimension of sexual choice and that sexuality strictly deals with how the individual feels and has no relation to, or effect on, procreation. Whereas chromosomal sex is strictly based on procreative purposes since it lies in the realm of biology, where a sexed male and a sexed female are the only sexes that can reproduce with each other. This notion thus makes sexuality the polar opposite of chromosomal sex, rather than gender being its opposite, in the binaries. She states that both gender and sexuality are concepts to be chosen.

The differences between them are that gender serves the binary of male and female, while sexuality, contingent on the individual, are not limited by such a simple binary. This binaries construction was only to serve the male identity. Sedgwick says that any system with gender at its focus will have an inherent heterosexist bias, meaning that the female gender is constructed as a supplement to the male identity (2442). That the binary by which gender is trapped only exists because it required being a binary, the female gender only exists because the male gender required a counterpart.

The binary of heterosexual and homosexual fits a deconstructive template more so than the binary of male and female, thus rendering sexual orientation and gender different. All people at birth are publicly assigned to one of two genders and because of this are forever unalterable. Sexual orientation, on the other hand, is often times rearrangeable, ambiguous, and has a doubleness quality to it that allows for easy alterations (Sedgwick 2444). Sedgwick does not find the gender binary to be one of complexity, but of a rather simple and unchallengeable one.

She states the essentialism of sexual orientation is less easy to maintain, incoherent, stressed and challenged (Sedgwick 2444). There is a contradictoriness to Sedgwick’s claim that sexual orientation is easy to alter and rearrangeable, yet at the same time less easy to maintain. It is, however, this seemingly contradictoriness that makes sexual orientation different from the gender binary. It is this complexity and fluidity that gives sexual orientation its ability to make leaps and bounds across its multinary systems.

The most important aspect of the difference between gender and sexual orientation is the fact that one can choose their sexuality, but not their gender. Lacan, Foucault, and Sedgwick all deal with historical values. That is to say, they deal with issues and topics that occur at the early stages of young life, thus making these dealings at the conception level of thought. Lacan’s mirror stage describes a child’s actualization of self. Foucault deals with the history of sex and the history of children’s conception of sex. Sedgwick discusses the differences of sex, sexuality, and gender.

The uniqueness of Sedgwick’s notion is that gender is assigned at birth and can never be altered. This ties into Lacan’s mirror stage where once a child realizes its image, and the placement of that image in the world it lives in, it can never un-see that image, and moreover, can never remove that image from its surroundings. Foucault greatly discusses children in his chapter, however he does not delve deeper as to what about children relate to their sex. Sedgwick supplies contextual substance to Foucault’s article that deals mainly with the history of sex and not the sex itself.

Lacan’s concept of self-actualization of the I, can be coupled with Sedgwick’s gender assignment at birth, that the I is gendered, and will effect, and often dictate, the child’s asymptomatic journey to reach it. Lacan’s concept of the binary of physical and metaphysical realization of self-image, is the basis for a binary discussion, something either is or is not physically here. Foucault discusses the history of sex and how a binary of speaking about sex or remaining silent does not exist. Sedgwick deals with the gender binary. This theory of dualism, binaries, dichotomy, lays foundation for these authors, and philosophers, and their works.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 28 September 2016

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