Medicine, symbolization and the 'real' body: Lacan's understanding of medical science

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Throughout the 20th century, philosophers have criticized the scientific understanding of the human body. Instead of presenting the body as a meaningful unity or Gestalt, it is regarded as a complex mechanism and described in quasi-mechanistic terms. In a phenomenological approach, a more intimate experience of the body is presented. This approach, however, is questioned by Jacques Lacan. According to Lacan, three basic possibilities of experiencing the body are to be distinguished: the symbolical (or scientific) body, the imaginary (or ideal) body and the real body. Whereas the symbolical body is increasingly objectified (and even digitalized) by medical science, the phenomenological perception amounts to an idealization of the body. The real body cannot be perceived immediately. Rather, it emerges in the folds and margins of our efforts to symbolize or idealize the body, which are bound to remain incomplete and fragile. In the first part of the article (1-3), Lacan's conceptual distinction between the symbolical, the imaginary and the real body will be explained. In the second part (4-5), this distinction will be further clarified by relying on crucial chapters in the history of anatomy (notably Mundinus, Vesalius, Da Vinci and Descartes)
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Archival date: 2021-01-07
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