Jacques Lacan is best known for his three registers (the Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real) in psychoanalytic theory. It is through the Symbolic that human subjectivity and the unconscious are ordered. The Symbolic is tied to language (cf. Zizek). The Imaginary is a conception of the body-as-whole and is also a psychical map of our corporeality. The Imaginary (the embodied unity) is reinforced and made possible through the Symbolic (the speaking subject, or ‘I’). Lacan’s descriptions of the Real are often difficult and intentionally ambiguous  and yet I sense they have some relevance for how we think about the pre-mortal life.
Lacan’s ambiguity is not mere obscurantism but is rather linked to the experience of trying to symbolize the ‘unsymbolizable’, which is how the Real is often described. The Real is unsymbolizable because the Symbolic realm can never adequately contain the trauma of the Real. For Shepherdson ‘the Real only acquires its unfamiliar and disruptive status in relation to the Symbolic and the Imaginary’ (p. 37). Shepherdson’s position reflects a concern with how the Real emerges from within the Symbolic but also represents the failure or cracks within this order.
The Real, then, is a form of trauma. This trauma is not the result of some absolute outside of the Symbolic order but rather is retroactively organised through the interrelation of the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic. Shepherdson writes that this emergent Real is ‘the trace of a past [the pre-discursive Real] that was never present… but only comes into being when it returns’ (p. 48). This past is often a primal unity experienced in relation to the world (or the Mother). Responding to this trauma, according to Freud, is not a single event but is rather repeatedly enacted and situates the Subject in a perpetual state of trauma, of creation and destruction, or of becoming. This process is traumatic because of the unsymbolizable Real that induces a desire for a state which was never present and which can be never be adequately recaptured.
Here is where the pre-mortal life becomes most relevant to Lacan’s ideas. The Pre-mortal life is but a trace in Mormon thought. Although it is a central doctrine we understand very little about this period in our existence. Further what has been taught by our leaders regarding this time period has often diverged widely. At a basic level, the pre-mortal life (in LDS teaching) requires that we accept that we lived (in some form) with God prior to our life here. This primal unity is deeply consonant with the pre-discursive unity experience by the child in Lacan’s work. To be sure, the fall from our pre-mortal life is a form of trauma that is retroactively organised because the veil makes this event ‘a past that was never present’. In short, the pre-mortal life is unsymbolizable .
That the pre-mortal life is unsymbolizable does not mean that nothing can be said about it; in fact the opposite is true, especially if we follow Shepherdson’s view of the Real (as emerging from the Symbolic and Imaginary). Rather what we can (and will) say about the pre-mortal life becomes a function of the Symbolic and Imaginary registers that we inhabit. The pre-mortal life is unsymbolizable because we can never fully resolve (or articulate) – within language or through our embodied experience – the fundamental trauma of our separation from God. We should expect therefore that LDS teachings upon this important subject (of necessity) will to continue to change over-time as we struggle to resolve our felt alienation from a life we cannot remember.
We cannot escape the pre-mortal life as both a trauma and a hope for which we long. This yearning for a primal unity helps us to understand how certain ideas or doctrines are retroactively placed into that first estate in relation to the hoped-for return to God. This is not to suggest that what current leaders have said concerning the pre-mortal life is incorrect but rather that by understanding (perhaps) how the pre-mortal life functions as a doctrine in Mormonism we are better able to interpret these various positions.
1. That Lacan’s conceptions of the Real shifting radically throughout his life, and in ways which may not be fully commensurable, makes this more troubling. A different perspective to the reading offered above can be found in Homer. He argues that the Real is the ‘unknown that exists at the limit of the socio-symbolic universe and is in constant tension with it’ (Homer, Jacques Lacan, 2005: 81).
2. The suggestion of the veil might indicate that the pre-mortal life is unsymbolizable because it is outside the Symbolic. However, that our Spirit is regarded to possess the memory of our pre-mortal life suggests that this pre-life is an excluded interior, or in the words of Miller, we have an ex-timate relation to the Real/Pre-mortal life.