The Rat Man Theory

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Sigmund Freud did not use the term signifier in relation to his work with the Rat Man. However, it was through this case, and its subsequent revisiting by Jacques Lacan, that we came to develop a more thorough understanding of how the unconscious mind works and in turn, the role that signifiers play, both in facilitating the creation of a condition, and in its eventual treatment.
The Rat Man, is a name that Sigmund Freud attributed to one of his case studies in order to protect the individual’s true identity. This patient sought Freud’s help in dealing with neuroses and anxieties which he felt had been restricting him from properly engaging with life, including fears that something will happen to his father or the woman he loves. Rat Man also
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He believes that the conflict between wanting to please his mother and fulfilling his own desires is causing him great anxiety. According to Lacan, Rat Man will not be able to have the phallus until he has worked through his desire to be it for his mother. In other words, Rat Man will not be able to pursue the goals his heart truly desires until he relinquishes his need to please his mother before himself. However, there is a contradiction at the heart of his condition; if he follows his mother’s will and marries his cousin, he will please his mother in an immediate sense but would equally betray her original desire for true love (rather than to be desired for wealth, a situation she found unsatisfactory). Conversely, if he follows his heart, he will have to reject his mother’s request, while at the same time pursuing the noble, heartfelt love she desires (and the lack of which causes her to require additional devotion from Rat Man). The situation seems irresolvable to Rat Man and Freud believes he thus falls ill as a means of delaying his decision. This delay is the symptom, the signifier of the desire of his…show more content…
Throughout the sessions, the word rat proved a signifier, with a huge number of associated unconscious material including connections between the Rat punishment for the criminals and anal eroticism and also between rats and money. In German, Ratten means rats whereas Raten means instalments which led Freud to observe that ‘he coined himself a regular rat currency’ (CITE Pg.213). While Freud views these ‘verbal bridges’ as the means by which the unconscious operates, Lacan viewed them as the very constituents of the unconscious (http://www.lacanonline.com/index/2010/06/what-does-lacan-say-about-the-signifier/). As Freud was using Free Association, Rat Man chose the aforementioned events of his life as being of primary significance and as such, we can see how the word Rat links these events and acts as a signifier in a variety of ways. This is not immediately revealed but when Freud (who did not actually use the word signifier) eventually reveals the connections between childhood events and feelings and issues the subject experiences in later life, the consistent connection to the term Rat becomes readily

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