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Back from SPEP

This past week/end the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy held its yearly conference.  Although the flight cancellations and other travel difficulties (resulting from Sandy) brought a large number of paper cancellations, particularly on Thursday, the event was nonetheless a great experience to be a part of.  With scholars from across the globe, the program was bursting with presentations on Phenomenology (particularly Heidegger, Husserl, and French thought), Deconstruction, Race and Gender Theory, Critical theory, psychoanalysis, and much more.  Generally, there were about a dozen simultaneous presentations, interspersed with a variety of plenary addresses, including, notably, Miguel de Beistegui’s lecture “The Question of Desire in French Phenomenology” (gotta give a shout out for the Silverman Pheno. Center).

Of the panels that I was able to attend, the standout was by far “Is Radical Phenomenology Too Radical? Paradoxes of Michel Henry’s Phenomenology of Life.”  There, Frederic Seyler (DePaul University)presented the above paper, with a response by Jeffrey Hanson (Australian Catholic University) notable for his recent publication Affects of Thought.  Both speakers were particularly clear and cogent, and Seyler was able to critique Henry’s thought, while simultaneously remaining quite fair to the thinkers position, an accomplishment which is seldom achieved.

Lacan on Negation

Speaking in terms which seem to betray a strong Hegelian (i.e. dialectical) influence, Lacan writes:

“In the symbolic order nothing exists except upon an assumed foundation of absence. Nothing exists except insofar as it does not exist.”

Lacan… being awesome.


Lacan… being Awesome.

Micro-Reviews #2: Jacques Lacan’s “My Teaching”

Overall Rating: 7/10

A provocative, short, and delightful read, Jacques Lacan’s My Teaching provides an enlightening introduction to Lacanian psychoanalysis, particularly for those uninterested or unable to tackle his Écrits or Seminars. As a disclaimer, it should be noted that this work is anything but systematic; on the contrary, My Teachings—composed of three lectures (all 1967)—exemplifies Lacan’s lighthearted, playful, and often crass character. Gaiety aside, Lacan here succeeds in providing a concise examination of his psychoanalytic project within these three short lectures, engaging such key topics as the Subject, the Other, language, the unconscious, the essence of thought, and his complex relationship to Freud.

In his first lecture, The Place, Origin, and End of My Teaching, Lacan offers a direct challenge to his contemporary clinical psychoanalysts. Dismissing the attempted “legitimization”of psychoanalysis—the tendency to (mis-)identify sexuality in the psychoanalytic sense with the quite different sexuality of the biological sciences—as mere “sales patter” (p.11), Lacan proposes a psychoanalysis which might go beyond the mere creation of “good employees” (p.19), better consumers. Instead, drawing upon Derrida’s Grammatology and (to a lesser extent) Heidegger, Lacan underscores his Saussurian (i.e. linguistic/structuralist) reading of psychoanalysis which “is in fact quite simply language, and absolutely nothing else.” (p.26) For Lacan, Freud’s “unconscious” is nothing other than a linguistic “knot,” underlying all conscious thought and conscious language. This region of the unconscious, although seemingly illogical, nevertheless functions within its own distinct logic, the logic of the homonym. In this realm, word-play, pun, slips of the tongue, and the raw association of signifiers reign.

Closing the lecture, Lacan delves into the controversy surrounding his use of “subject” and “Other.” In language reminiscent of Fichte, or perhaps the earlier Boehme, Lacan posits the “subject” as a necessary product of desire, a desire which is always directed outward towards an Other. In this specific sense, Lacan understands his language of the subject to be, implicitly at least, prefigured in Freud’s analysis of desire.

His second essay, My Teachings, Its Nature and Its Ways, continues directly in this vein. Focused directly upon the “subject” of the previous discourse, Lacan explicitly identifies this concept with the unconscious. “If something gives us the feeling that there is a place where we can lay hands on it, where it’s the subject we are dealing with, then it’s at the level known as the unconscious.” (p.81) In this way, Lacan hopes to divest subject and substance, two concepts which have become fully identified in post-Aristotelian thought. This choice—to retain the language of the subject—is not therefore intended to invoke the subject of classic metaphysics, but quite to the contrary, to completely “invert” it.

In the final essay of this short volume, So, You Will Have Heard Lacan, Lacan engages the essence of “thinking.” Rejecting the epistemological axiom that thinking always knows itself as thinking, Lacan proposes an unrecognized and embodied thinking which does not know itself to be thinking, a thinking which “does not grasp itself” (p.103). It is this thinking that overwhelms the human at all times: one is constantly emerged in this thought, thought which is nothing other than the unconscious.