‘Masterclass on Jacques Lacan: A Lateral Introduction’ by Slavoj Žižek

A four week course delivered in 2006 at Birkbeck, University of London. Download link updated 20. June 2021.


In 2000, the 100th anniversary of the publication of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams was accompanied by a new wave of triumphalist acclamations of how psychoanalysis is dead: with the new advances in brain sciences, it is finally put where it belonged all the time, to the lumber-room of pre-scientific obscurantist search for hidden meanings, alongside religious confessors and dream-readers.

There is something to these accusations. The story of three successive humiliations of man, the three “narcissistic illnesses”, (“Copernicus-Darwin-Freud”) was given a new turn in the last decades: the latest scientific breakthroughs seem to add to it a whole series of further “humiliations” which radicalize the first three, so that, with regard to today’s “brain sciences”, psychoanalysis rather seems to belong to the traditional “humanist” field threatened by the latest humiliations. Is, then, psychoanalysis today outdated? It seems that it is, on three interconnected levels: (1) that of scientific knowledge, where the cognitivist-neurolobiologist model of human mind appears to supersede the Freudian model; (2) that of psychiatric clinic, where psychoanalytic treatment is rapidly losing ground against chemotherapy and behavioral therapy; (3) that of the social context, where the image of society, of social norms, which “repress” individual’s sexual drives, no longer appears valid with regard to today’s predominant hedonistic permissiveness.

It contrast to these “evident” truths, the aim of the course is to demonstrate the exact opposite: not only is psychoanalysis not veraltet – it is only today that its time has arrived, that Freud’s key insights gain their full value – on condition that one reads Freud through Lacan, through his “return to Freud” which is not the return to Freud as he was, but to what was “in Freud more than himself”, the traumatic core of the Freudian discovery of which he himself was not fully aware.

The course followed the fundamental rule of excluding all clinical stuff. Lacan was first and foremost a clinician, and clinic permeates everything he wrote and did: even when Lacan reads Plato, Aquinas, Hegel, or Kierkegaard, it is always in order to deal with a precise clinical problem (Plato for transference, Aquinas for symptom, Hegel for the dialectic of the progress of treatment, Kierkegaard for repetition). Our wager is that this very all-pervasiveness of clinic allows us to exclude it: precisely because clinic is everywhere, one can erase it and limit oneself to its effects, to the way it colors everything that appears non-clinical – this is the true test of its central place.

The four weeks course thus provided a Lacanian reading of four domains of humanities and social sciences: first week, philosophy and theology (Hegel, Kierkegaard, Heidegger); second week, science (contemporary cognitivists and evolutionists, from Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker); third week, theories of ideology (from Marx to analyzing today’s “fundamentalism”); last week, theories of art (cinema and literature : Henry James, Samuel Beckett, David Lynch, Lars von Trier). The overall aim is to demonstrate the strength of the Lacanian approach, through polemical confrontations with other predominant trends, from cognitivism to deconstructionism.

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