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LaConference 2011

Lacan SalonVancouver, British Columbia

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Western Front

303 East 8th Avenue

Organizing committee: Clint Burnham, Hilda Fernandez, Nancy Gillespie, Paul Kingsbury, Jesse Proudfoot and members of the Vancouver Lacan Salon

9:00 a.m. – 9:45: on site registration

9:45Opening remarks: Hilda Fernandez, Lacan Salon

10:00 – 11:15: Session I, Clinical

Alejandro Cerda The time given: A return to Freudian metapsychology

Hilda Fernandez Some Reflections On Paranoia In Aronofsky’s  Black Swan

Evan C. Strauss Examining Dhrupad: Symbolism, Absence, and the Other

11:30 – 1:00: Session II, Texts

Nancy Frelick Reading Renaissance Texts with Transference

Dave Gaertner Intoxicated by the Signifier: Lacan, Death and Anatole Broyard’s Intoxicated by My Illness

Nancy Gillespie ‘Garden of Venus’: Feminine Jouissance in Djuna Barnes’ Ladies Almanack

1:00 – 2:00 lunch (off site)

2:00 – 3:15: Session III, Politics

Emilio Allier Montano & Peter Bloom The Closed Fantasy of Democracy: The Authoritarian ‘Grip’ of Democratization in the 1988 Mexican Election

Jon Smith Living in the End Times of the Baby Boomers

Marc Acherman Hope or Nope?: Obama as Neighbour

3:30 – 4:45: Session IV, Time/Space

Beth Thomas The Thames is a teacher: Lacanian metaphor and meaning in writing about art

Kyle Carpenter The Big OS: A Mechanistic Defense of Psychoanalysis

Alessandra Capperdoni The Immigrant Thing: Arts, the Real, and Diasporic Flows

5:00 – 6:00: Keynote address, Dany Nobus: Has Psychoanalysis Anything to do with Sexuality?

(introduced by Nancy Gillespie, Lacan Salon)

6:00: closing remarks, Clint Burnham, Lacan Salon


Hope or Nope?: Obama as Neighbour

Marc Acherman

The dominant features of American political discourse since the election of Barack Obama to the presidency have been the disintegration of civility and the erosion of any respect for or trust in the basic symbolic rules and conventions that structure stable social relations. Drawing on Lacan’s formulation of the Neighbor—as well as subsequent elaborations of it by Slavoj Žižek—my paper will argue that this American “decline in symbolic efficacy” (Santner) entails clashes between over-proximate imaginary neighbors, each accusing the other of stealing their cultural-political jouissance. Yet it will also claim that excessive concentration on these “partisan” rivalries ultimately serves to obscure President Obama’s dedication to politics as the “service of goods” and his failure to achieve the disruptive power of the “act” that would fundamentally address the Real of socio-economic antagonisms. Current images of Barack Obama circulating in rallies and on the internet function as the material for analysis. In particular, the paper will conduct close readings of the “Obama-as-Joker” meme, as well as the iconic Obama “Hope” poster and its “Nope” parody, putting them in dialog with the 2008 Batman film, The Dark Knight. The intersection of these cultural and political fantasies will be treated as an opportunity to better understand the contradictions of the newly minted “Age of Obama” as well as an occasion to put some of Jacques Lacan’s concepts for his Seminar VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis to work outside of the analytic setting.     

The Immigrant Thing: Arts, the Real, and Diasporic Flows

Alessandra Capperdoni

This paper discusses Lacan’s notion of sublimation, explored in Seminar VII on Ethics, in relation to contemporary artistic practices that have seemingly shifted their attention away from formalist concerns in favour of a ‘new realism.’ Specifically, the paper will address the work of artists, based in Europe, attending to the hypervisibility of real life immigrants, as well as artists working with conditions of exile(d) subjectivities. Examples will range from Italian Stefano Boeri’s Solid Sea research project and German Boris Hoppek’s installations to Lebanese Mona Hatoum’s video ‘letters’ to her mother (Measures of Distance, 1988). While Lacan never proposed a systematized theory of aesthetics, beginning with Ethics his work increasingly included questions of aesthetics in relation to subjectivity. The paper will discuss these artistic practices as poesis of the void, anamorphosis, and the letter, that is, three different attempts to circumscribe the Real of the Thing which Lacan theorizes as sublimation.

The Big OS: A Mechanistic Defense of Psychoanalysis

Kyle Carpenter

The prevailing metaphor for the human mind in the advent of cybernetics has been that of the computer: the brain seen as the true seat of the human mind, the site where the “real” action of thought occurs. This model has typically lent itself to a strictly materialist platform, where neurophysiology and biology are considered to offer the clearest insights into how the mind works; hence the glorification of the powers of science and pharmaceuticals in the treatment of mental illness. What is curious in this use of metaphor is how it denies that aspect of the computer that is most obvious to most of us as users: software, or interface, the very mode of computing that renders the computer legible. What, to the “user,” is the computer without the screen? Analogously, what to the subject is the mind without fantasy? In my presentation, I will explore the implications of the incomplete metaphor of mind as computer, and sketch the way that Lacanian psychoanalysis is able to supplement and correct that very metaphor, precisely by never mistaking the “software” for the “hardware.” Indeed, perhaps it is in this metaphorical register that the “phantasmic screen” most clearly finds its expression. My intent in following this logic is to address the problematic of the connection between the mind and the body, in both cultural assumption and Lacanian theory, as well as provide an effective argument for the place and efficacy of psychoanalysis in the digital age.

The time given: A return to Freudian metapsychology

Alejandro Cerda

Our current condition, inebriated with technology’s supply and demand alongside the present political times of an upheaval and resistance against late capitalism, requires a reconsideration of the subject amidst a forgotten temporality. However, the question of time is no longer a query exclusive for philosophy, nor can it remain in the theories of quantum mechanics. Beginning with Plato’s primary definition of time in Timaeus -a moving image of eternity- up to Penrose’s Cycles of Time, the notion of time has been constrained to various categories that entangles a dense and extant multiplicity of debates nowadays. Nevertheless, such imbrications will lead the following paper to assert that the subject that poses the question of time (a subject in analysis) -within a temporal horizon and a political locus- is the only revolutionary subject possible for the 21st century. Henceforth, the purpose of this paper, a preliminary study to a PhD thesis, is to affirm, according to psychoanalysis, especially Freudian metapsychology, that time is indeed a question posited by the subject in analysis. Thus, we will engage with the importance of a return to Freudian metapsychology in conjunction and disjunction to a close reading of Lacanian contributions and contemporary thought, as a platform for ongoing clinical debates. Continuously, we will analyze the relevancy that clinical psychoanalysis offers to the subject in analysis, considered as a valid political subject, and its multiple dimensions of his or her time.

Some Reflections On Paranoia In Aronofsky’s Black Swan

Hilda Fernandez

The highly evocative psychological thriller Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky 2010) presents us an exemplary “case” of paranoia with psychotic symptoms. Nina is a gifted ballerina -played brilliantly by Natalie Portman- who struggles to accomplish the challenging demands of the main character of Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake. Nina lives with her engulfing mother and experiences some obsessive features. While pursuing perfection to sustain the role of the prima ballerina, Nina is forced to face her sexuality, which creates an upsurge of her symptoms. She will experience disturbing visual hallucinations and a paranoid delusion whose object is Lilly, a sexy dancer that is chosen as her replacement and with whom Nina developed a tormented love/hate imaginary relation.

Freud approached paranoia with the written memories of Dr. Schreber, deducing common features in paranoid psychosis such as the defensive nature against repressed homosexual desires, the mechanism of projection and the narcissistic fixation. Lacan describes the psychotic structure as captured between the registers of the Real and the Imaginary. The Symbolic order suffers from a “foreclosure” (Verwerfung) of the signifier “Name-of-the-Father” that troubles the relationship of the subject with her language. Through the fictional case of Nina, Black Swan offer us an opportunity to reflect on the paranoid symptom. The conditions of the emergence of this paranoid delusion with hallucinations will be linked to narcissism, the oedipal configuration and homoerotic desires. The resolution of the symptom will tell us of a desperate attempt to reply to the m(O)ther’s desire. We will discuss key points to be considered in the treatment of paranoia.

Reading Renaissance Texts with Transference

Nancy Frelick

One of the challenges of reading texts, especially literary works by early modern women, is the temptation of biographical criticism, which often amounts to a kind of projection as Michel Foucault explains in his work on the author.  One way to avoid this kind of projection is to make use of a transferential model inspired by Lacanian psychoanalysis.  Unlike so-called classic psychoanalytic readings of the type performed by Marie Bonaparte that relied on the problematic assumption that creativity stemmed from pathology, and which illustrate a kind of transference (Freud would have called it counter-transference) with respect to the author, Lacanian theory stays away from biographical criticism and aims instead to read the logic of desire inscribed in the discourses of both the text and the interpreter.  As Shoshana Felman suggests, one of the advantages of such a model is not only its emphasis on detailed textual analysis (indeed many techniques in psychoanalysis come from linguistic and literary analysis), but also its recognition that literary texts contain elements that destabilize notions about reading and interpretation, and therefore undermine traditional assumptions about the relationship between text and critic.  Indeed, just as the functioning of the unconscious subverts the Cartesian cogito and the Hegelian notion of absolute knowledge, the Lacanian theory of transference destabilizes the traditional opposition between analyst and patient or teacher and student, seeing both as equally subject to transference and to the workings of the unconscious (Felman, Jacques Lacan 69-97).  In this paper, we explore the critical and pedagogical implications of such a model.

Intoxicated by the Signifier: Lacan, Death, and Anatole Broyard’s Intoxicated by My Illness

Dave Gaertner

In this paper I am interested in exploring death and its relationship to writing via two 1959 texts: Jacques Lacan’s Seminar VII and Anatole Broyard’s Intoxicated by My Illness. As Lacan writes in chapter XXII of the Seminar: “how can man, that is to say a living being, have access to knowledge of the death instinct, to his own relationship to death?… The answer is, by virtue of the signifier in its most radical form. It is in the signifier and insofar as the subject articulates a signifying chain that he comes up against the fact that he may disappear from the chain of what he is” (295). Broyard, like Lacan, was fascinated in the relationship between writing and death. When first told that his prostate cancer was terminal, the author immediately began to draw comparisons between his personal crisis and “the crisis of language [and the] the crisis of literature” (3) in his writing. Via a close reading of Broyard’s text, which was composed during the last fourteen months of his life, I will put Lacan and Broyard’s ideas into conversation and reflect on the relationship between death and writing that both authors are consumed by.

‘Garden of Venus’: Feminine Jouissance in Djuna Barnes’ Ladies Almanack

Nancy Gillespie

Taking my lead from Jacques Lacan’s Seminar XX—On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge: Encore—my paper will argue that Djuna Barnes’ idiosyncratic modernist engagement with language in Ladies Almanack enables her to create a poetics of the erotic in the feminine by writing feminine jouissance. Like Lacan, the narrator of this text begins by stating that there are no words to speak of feminine ecstasy, but through her excessive poetics, she enacts and thus creates a lalangue—a speech separated from the structure of language—that enables this ‘Gasp under Gasp’ to be written. She turns the lack of words into a lack of lack. Barnes’ text is a parody of Natalie Barney and her coterie—the artistic, lesbian community that she fostered in Paris in the 1920s at the salon she held at her house at 20 rue Jacob. Barnes uses the form of an almanack to create an unconventional text in which she can play with narrative and language. As in the process of analysis, this alternative calendrical structure enables her to tell a story, create a history of sorts, without a traditional narrative structure. Barney’s life, as the character Dame Evangeline Musset, is followed through the months of the year, but many discussions take place between the other women in her salon, rendering it a dialogic and heterogeneous text that challenges dominant belief systems, particularly beliefs about feminine sexuality and the limits of love and knowledge. Like her friend James Joyce, Barnes subverts narrative and linguistic rules to make her own modernist poetics. Barnes’ web of words is woven from Elizabethan, Chaucerian and Rabelaisian remains, which becomes her way of infusing the textual with the sexual, intervening in phallic discourse. Her text and the teasing tongue of her narrator play right alongside Musset’s ‘Hang of her tongue’ that solaces women’s ‘Quarters most horribly burning.’ Although it could be argued that Barnes is writing in code to avoid censorship, as I will show, by writing excessively to speak about what exceeds language, what is extradiscursive, she writes a new structure of desire, a new poetics of the erotic that anticipates and further develops Lacan’s notions of feminine sexuality.

The Closed Fantasy of Democracy: The Authoritarian ‘Grip’ of Democratization in the 1988 Mexican Election

Emilio Allier Montano & Peter Bloom

This work investigates democracy using a psychoanalytic perspective to understand its role for repressing political competition. The psychological aspects of this phenomenon are particularly relevant to this investigation. Exploring how desires for democracy emotionally affect subjects illuminates the ways these aspirations shape political identity and practices. Lacanian psychoanalysis, with its linking of identity to desire and fantasy, is well suited for this task. Drawing on the case of the 1988 Mexican election, this work reveals democracy as a fantasy ‘gripping’ subjects in support of specific regimes and exhibits its potential role for legitimizing particular hegemonies. Democracy, like all politics, appears sustained by a narrative which demands for its survival the creation of a demonized ‘other’ containing in this way the seeds of exclusion. This analysis suggests how democratic aspirations can play a role in sustaining diverse political regimes, even those historically characterized as authoritarian.

Living in the End Times of the Baby Boomers

Jon Smith

Zizek’s recent Living in the End Times overlooks one particular thing: we are each always already living in our own end times, end times that have a great deal more immediate personal impact than climate change, the end of Communism, and so on.  So Zizek’s odd move of applying Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ 5 stages of grief to an end that hasn’t happened yet might (must?) also apply to our own personal ends.  Rather than facing my own end, however, in this paper I want to face, with highly inappropriate glee, the end of my generation’s Other Who Has Stolen My Enjoyment, the baby boomers, not coincidentally the group for whom, as Lawrence Grossberg has argued, “youth is something to be held onto by cultural and physical effort.”  Theirs is, of course, a version of Becker’s denial of death, and I want to imagine what happens to American studies (my field) in particular as the absurdity of a generation in their 60s still identifying (a la the Birmingham School) with Transgressive Youth Subcultures finally becomes visible.  What does an American studies–or a North American left–look like that has moved past the stage of denial?

Examining Dhrupad: Symbolism, Absence, and the Other

Evan C. Strauss

 It is clear that a certain provocation of jouissance is a requisite for meaningful aesthetic creation.  However, access to the real is governed by specific symbolic process: condensation and displacement for Freud, and metaphor and metonymy for Lacan. In this essay, dhrupad (a North Indian musical tradition that is at once ancient, classical, and improvised) will be closely examined as a structure whose purpose is a specific mediation of jouissance as guided by its specific aesthetic prohibitions. However, these prohibitions are complicated by an aesthetic designation of absence. That is, within the dhrupad tradition, the creation of beauty is both strictly regulated and not strictly definable; its definition lies in its absence. These themes are greatly furthered by a reading of Lacan’s Seminar on “The Purloined Letter”, in which the crucial function of absence within the metaphoric and metonymic creation of the signifying chain is discussed. The creation of the signifying chain will be examined in terms of unconscious/Other discourse. From here we may draw certain parallels between the creation of beauty within dhrupad and the repetitious automatism of the signifying chain. In dhrupad, beauty deals not with the subject’s conscious intent in any way. Rather, beauty is found in the abandonment of conscious intent in exchange for an automatic aesthetic expression. Strictly speaking, the dhrupad musician’s position within aesthetic creation is that of witness. From this perspective we may more clearly examine the subjective position in relation to aesthetic creation, and the jouissance which is thereby implicated. This essay utilizes primary source material, secondary source material, and original research.

The Thames is a teacher: Lacanian metaphor and meaning in writing about art

Beth A. Thomas

This paper explores the potential for a Lacanian approach to metaphor to provide in- sight into meaning making in the reception of writing about art and artistic practice. Although the relevance of metaphor for an understanding of contemporary art and artmaking has been questioned, I suggest metaphor remains a useful and relevant concept when exploring understandings about artistic practice as they are expressed linguistically. Jacques Lacan’s unique approach to metaphor as a process of psychic repression and identification opens spaces within language to explore relationships between conscious and unconscious knowledge and the impact they have on the reception of writing. Focusing on Daniel Birnbaum’s article “Stream of Conscience” (1999), which explores Mark Dion’s development of his 1999 piece Tate Thames Dig, I explore ways metaphor enables a reading of tension, intertextuality, and desire within an identifactory framework.