‘Lacan’s Fifth and Unfinished Discourse: Capitalism’s Alchemist Dream’ by Cindy Zeiher

Filozofski vestnik | Volume XLI | Number 1 | 2020 | 331–345

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Why is it that we sometimes think of Lacan as Marxist when is so assertively Freudian? Perhaps it is because Lacan perceives Marx rather than Freud as the discoverer of the symptom and furthermore places Marx as central to his fifth Capitalist discourse, in contrast with his previous discourses which are all in-spired by Freud. In this way Lacan’s final and arguably unfinished Capitalist discourse stands apart from all the others, yet at the same time it reveals contra-dictions and possible parallels with them as it attempts to unravel the dialectical tensions between the problematic production and consumption of meaning

‘Lacan’s Return to Antiquity: Between Nature and the Gods’ by Oliver Harris

Published by Routledge in 2016.

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Lacan’s Return to Antiquity is the first book devoted to the role of classical antiquity in Lacan’s work. Oliver Harris poses a question familiar from studies of Freud: what are Ancient Greece and Rome doing in a twentieth-century theory of psychology? In Lacan’s case, the issue has an additional edge, for he employs antiquity to demonstrate what is radically new about psychoanalysis. It is a tool with which to convey the revolutionary power of Freud’s ideas by digging down to the philosophical questions beneath them. It is through these questions that Lacan allies psychoanalysis with the pioneering intellectual developments of his time in anthropology, philosophy, art and literature.

Harris begins by considering the role of Plato and Socrates in Lacan’s conflicted thoughts on teaching, writing and the process of becoming an intellectual icon. In doing so, he provides a way into considering the uniquely challenging nature of the Lacanian texts themselves, and the live performances behind them. Two central chapters explore when and why myth is drawn upon in psychoanalysis, its threat to the discipline’s scientific aspirations, and Lacan’s embrace of its expressive potential. The final chapters explore Lacan’s defence of tragedy and his return to Ovidian themes. These include the unwitting voyeurism of Actaeon, and the fate of Narcissus, a figure of tragic metamorphosis that Freud places at the heart of infantile development.

Lacan’s Return to Antiquity brings to Lacan studies the close reading and cross-disciplinary research that has proved fruitful in understanding Freud’s invention of psychoanalysis. It will appeal to psychoanalysts and advanced students studying in the field, being of particular value to those interested in the roots of Lacanian concepts, the evolution of his thought, and the cultural context of his work. What emerges is a more nuanced, self-critical figure, a corrective to the reputation for dogmatism and obscurity that Lacan has attracted. In the process, new light is thrown on enduring controversies, from Lacan’s pronouncements on feminine sexuality to the opaque drama of the seminars themselves.

‘Universal Emancipation: Race beyond Badiou’ by Elisabeth Paquette

Published by University of Minnesota Press in 2020.

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Is inattention to questions of race more than just incidental to Alain Badiou’s philosophical system? Universal Emancipation reveals a crucial weakness in the approach to (in)difference in political life of this increasingly influential French thinker. Elisabeth Paquette’s powerful critical analysis demonstrates that Badiou’s theory of emancipation fails to account for racial and racialized subjects, thus attenuating its utility in thinking about freedom and justice.

The crux of the argument relies on a distinction he makes between culture and politics, whereby freedom only pertains to the political and not the cultural. The implications of this distinction become evident when she turns to two examples within Badiou’s theory: the Négritude movement and the Haitian Revolution. According to Badiou’s 2017 book Black, while Négritude is an important cultural movement, it cannot be considered a political movement because Négritude writers and artists were too focused on particularities such as racial identity. Paquette argues that Badiou’s discussion of Négritude mirrors that of Jean-Paul Sartre in his 1948 essay “Black Orpheus” that has been critiqued by leading critical race theorists. Second, prominent Badiou scholar Nick Nesbitt claims that the Haitian Revolution could only be considered political if its adherents had shifted their focus away from race. However, Paquette argues that not only was race a central feature of this revolution but also that the revolution ought to be understood as a political emancipation movement.

Paquette also moves beyond Badiou, drawing on the groundbreaking work of Sylvia Wynter to offer an alternative framework for emancipation. She juxtaposes Badiou’s use of universality as indifference to difference with Wynter’s pluri-conceptual theory of emancipation, emphasizing solidarity over indifference. Paquette then develops her view of a pluri-conceptual theory of emancipation, wherein particular identities, such as race, need not be subtracted from a theory of emancipation.


Elisabeth Paquette is assistant professor of philosophy and women’s and gender studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

‘The Melancholy Science: An Introduction to the Thought of Theodor W. Adorno’ by Gillian Rose

Published by Verso in 2013.

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The Melancholy Science is Gillian Rose’s investigation into Theodor Adorno’s work and legacy. Rose uncovers the unity discernable among the many fragments of Adorno’s oeuvre, and argues that his influence has been to turn Marxism into a search for style. The attempts of Adorno, Lukács and Benjamin to develop a Marxist theory of culture centred on the concept of reification are contrasted, and the ways in which the concept of reification has come to be misused are exposed. Adorno’s continuation for his own time of the Marxist critique of philosophy is traced through his writings on Hegel, Kierkegaard, Husserl and Heidegger. His opposition to the separation of philosophy and sociology is shown by examination of his critique of Durkheim and Weber, and of his contributions to the dispute over positivism, his critique of empirical social research and his own empirical sociology.

Gillian Rose shows Adorno’s most important contribution to be his founding of a Marxist aesthetic that offers a sociology of culture, as demonstrated in his essays on Kafka, Mann, Beckett, Brecht and Schönberg. Finally, Adorno’s ‘Melancholy Science’ is revealed to offer a ‘sociology of illusion’ that rivals both structural Marxism and phenomenological sociology as well as the subsequent work of the Frankfurt School.

‘The Climate of History in a Planetary Age’ by Dipesh Chakrabarty

Published by University of Chicago Press in 2021.

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For the past decade, historian Dipesh Chakrabarty has been one of the most influential scholars addressing the meaning of climate change. Climate change, he argues, upends long-standing ideas of history, modernity, and globalization. The burden of The Climate of History in a Planetary Age is to grapple with what this means and to confront humanities scholars with ideas they have been reluctant to reconsider—from the changed nature of human agency to a new acceptance of universals.

Chakrabarty argues that we must see ourselves from two perspectives at once: the planetary and the global. This distinction is central to Chakrabarty’s work—the globe is a human-centric construction, while a planetary perspective intentionally decenters the human. Featuring wide-ranging excursions into historical and philosophical literatures, The Climate of History in a Planetary Age boldly considers how to frame the human condition in troubled times. As we open ourselves to the implications of the Anthropocene, few writers are as likely as Chakrabarty to shape our understanding of the best way forward.

Photography and the Optical Unconscious

Published by Duke University Press in 2017.

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Photography is one of the principal filters through which we engage the world. The contributors to this volume focus on Walter Benjamin’s concept of the optical unconscious to investigate how photography has shaped history, modernity, perception, lived experience, politics, race, and human agency. In essays that range from examinations of Benjamin’s and Sigmund Freud’s writings to the work of Kara Walker and Roland Barthes’s famous Winter Garden photograph, the contributors explore what photography can teach us about the nature of the unconscious. They attend to side perceptions, develop latent images, discover things hidden in plain sight, focus on the disavowed, and perceive the slow. Of particular note are the ways race and colonialism have informed photography from its beginning. The volume also contains photographic portfolios by Zoe Leonard, Kelly Wood, and Kristan Horton, whose work speaks to the optical unconscious while demonstrating how photographs communicate on their own terms. The essays and portfolios in Photography and the Optical Unconscious create a collective and sustained assessment of Benjamin’s influential concept, opening up new avenues for thinking about photography and the human psyche.

Contributors. Mary Bergstein, Jonathan Fardy, Kristan Horton, Terri Kapsalis, Sarah Kofman, Elisabeth Lebovici, Zoe Leonard, Gabrielle Moser, Mignon Nixon, Thy Phu, Mark Reinhardt, Shawn Michelle Smith, Sharon Sliwinski, Laura Wexler, Kelly Wood, Andrés Mario Zervigón

‘On Photography’ by Susan Sontag


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First published in 1973, this is a study of the force of photographic images, which are continually inserted between experience and reality. Sontag here develops further the concept of “transparency”. When anything can be photographed, and photography has destroyed the boundaries and definitions of art, a viewer can approach a photograph freely, with no expectations of discovering what it means. This collection of six lucid and invigorating essays, with the most famous being “In Plato’s Cave”, make up a deep exploration of how the image has affected society.

‘Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography’ by Roland Barthes


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A graceful, contemplative volume, Camera Lucida was first published in 1979. Commenting on artists such as Avedon, Clifford, Mapplethorpe, and Nadar, Roland Barthes presents photography as being outside the codes of language or culture, acting on the body as much as on the mind, and rendering death and loss more acutely than any other medium. This groundbreaking approach established Camera Lucida as one of the most important books of theory on this subject, along with Susan Sontag’s On Photography.

The Final Countdown: Europe, Refugees and the Left


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Following the results of the project, a publication titled The Final Countdown: Europe, Refugees and the Left is edited by Jela Krečič. The collected essays introduce some of the most powerful theoretical minds of our time, including Boris Buden, Mladen Dolar, Saroj Giri, Boris Groys, Agon Hamza, Jamil Khader, Robert Pfaller, Frank Ruda, Slavoj Žižek and Alenka Zupančič.

The collection deals with all the major political problems of today’s geopolitical situation: from the rise of populism to the immigration politics in Europe, including analysis of Brexit, and the phenomenon of Donald Trump. This is the first (one of the rarest) book to focus on the most troubling political tendencies of our time, from so-called refugee crises in Europe to inefficiencies of leftist politics. Authors of the book also critically tackle Political Correctness, identity politics, multiculturalism, post-colonial studies with a clear massage that justified fights of particular social, sexual, gender, religious, racial groups for social equality should be understood in the context of global capitalism and its continuous and ever more powerful antagonisms, conflicts and catastrophes form wars to ecological devastation. From this point of view, many authors conclude, derives a need for an universal emancipatory politics.

Edited and introduced by Jela Krečič
Published by IRWIN and Wiener Festwochen Vienna.