The Lacanian flavour of Dr. Who

The first in a two part series of Dr. Who appeared on BBC1 a moment ago, in which David Tennant manages somehow (who knows) to morph into floppy-haired Matt Smith. Who, here, is met with his old nemesis the Master (John Simm), born again, for Christmas day.

The subject for the episode, and the next, is the end of the world, and I did pick out some rather interesting philosophical elements there, Hegelian in nature too. But it had little to do with Ends, or rather the Hegelian End of History, popularly utilised by Marx and more recently Francis Fukuyama. It had nothing to do with any Christian eschatology – the notion that John Gray manages to utilise as his impetus for conflating radical politics with religious End Time – but actually something more substantial in Hegel’s work, namely the Master.

Without further ado, there is a strict Lacanian correlative in the Hegelian Master, one that needs to be discussed outright in order to emphasise the relevance with which the Master (Dr Who character) has with the Hegelian Master. In Lacanian psychoanalysis, the analyst has to conduct himself in such a way as to aim to reveal the analysand’s fantasy, and the way in which to do this is not to act as the absolute knowledge – even though, generally, the analyst is, at least in a clinical context, in other words the analyst has to act as a passive observer, not as the strong knowledge base against the weak, passivity of the analysand. Once this “recongition” of roles has taken place, the revealing of the fantasy can begin, and the ends of psychoanalysis can at least begin to come to fruition.

Now what is significant about the analyst, or master, in this sense? Slavoj Zizek words it thus: he [the analyst] renounces all enforcing (forçage) of reality and, fully aware that the actual is in already itself rational, adopt the stance of a passive observer who does not intervene directly into the content

This is to say that he creates the conditions for which the analysand is said to be most comfortable at revealing, the conduct of the analyst sets this mood as such. Paradoxically, the analyst creates a condition for which s/he is not allowed to direct the flowing or revealing of the analysand, by conducting his or herself in such a manner, the analyst allows for analysand revealing.

What other familiar words could be used to explain the conduct of the analyst? Perhaps a kind of conscious disavowal. The analyst could, if s/he had an agenda or an ax to grind, force the analysand to say what s/he wanted to hear from them, you can imagine it now in a kind of parody, an analyst hearing from the analysand “well, when I was growing up, life was very hard” to which the analyst with their agenda replies “so, your faced severe problems with your Father figure” – this is not the conduct of the Lacanian analyst. But what is further to this conscious disavowal? That the analyst has to not display their similarities to the analysand – this would, too, not be the correct conduct. But why? The analyst, or in this case the Master, is no different, and let us remember the true Hegelian root of this in the Master/Slave dialectic; the Master is only such because the slave recognises this, the slave, also, is only such because the Master recognises this, and in this recongition, and acknowledgement, the two binary codes persist in human ontology.

So if the analyst, or Master, is no different in constitution from the analysand or slave, what does this reveal? That both are constituted equal, in the mirror – as Lacan’s early work would dictate. But, for Lacan, how is the subject constituted? Put simply, as a split subject. More specifically, subjectivity, for Lacan, is born of two things, truth and knowledge; simply put, the truth of something is what exists even in spite of our subjective awareness of it, so, for example, a transcendent God might exist, because of the conditions of its being, the limits in knowledge that a person can have of something that is constitutionally transcendent, renders the truth-realm of it to be unknowable. And this defines knowledge, in the Lacanian sense, which is this proximity to our limits in knowledge. The split, therefore, is in experiencing what Lacan calls the Real – what goes beyond our knowing of something – and knowledge – characterised as that which we can plausibly know.

Further, the subject is a constant bargaining between being-for-others and being the cause of their being. Simply, the subject is both defined by its contrast to an object, and the task of rendering itself a subject, or making oneself an individual, thinking for oneself, choosing for oneself etc. It is these conditions that render the subject in a constant state of split. So, to bring us back to our point, the Master in Dr. Who, becomes everyone – it is quite simply just him – it is, in the strictest Lacanian sense, never just him, because he is always split. The episode, therefore, has stayed true to a Lacanian core: The Master is always a split subject, defined in turn by the other. On this basis, I predict that the next episode will reveal Dr Who and his cohorts defeating the evil, and clearly deluded, Master race.