2018 Gradiva Student Paper Winner
The Ubiquitous Screen, the Swelling of the Imaginary and 21st Century Suffering
Abstract: The specular images of the digital screen are now ubiquitous as our constant engagement with the interfaces of computer monitors, smart phones and high definition televisions seem essential to our daily lives. As we find ourselves staring and swiping, typing and texting, we become further invested in our relationships with this dimension of the image.
While Lacan closely aligned the Imaginary register with the realm of meaning, he also designated the Imaginary as the realm of the image, of identification, and of narcissism. This preoccupation with the realm of the Imaginary draws us away from our engagement in the aspects of our experience more deeply involved in the registers of the Symbolic and the Real. As we become further invested in images and their identifications, spectacles, comparisons and the culture of ‘liking’ on social media, we begin to lose touch the with dynamic processes involved in symbolization, metaphorical play and desire. By increasingly seeking the temporary pleasures of consumer culture and by becoming further involved in the disembodying experience of virtual realities, we are losing touch with the subtle energies of our sensuous embodiment, the Eros of our drives and their involvement with the dimension of the Real.
This essay examines how this overinvestment in the digital screen, the realm of the Imaginary, is involved in the neurotic symptoms of the 21st century. Using Lacan’s diagnostic schema based on the subject’s relation to the Other, rather than a collection of symptoms, I demonstrate how this overinvestment in the Imaginary manifests itself in the hysteric and obsessional symptoms which distinguish our times. I also look at some of the problems that psychoanalysis as a practice has struggled to face in addressing neurotic suffering in the face of the surging demands for consumer satisfaction, instant gratification and narcissistic validation.