‘Analysing the Cultural Unconscious: Science of the Signifier’

Published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2020. Download link updated on 4th August 2021.


What are we doing when taking psychoanalysis from the couch to the analysis of society, culture, and arts? How is it possible to do so? How is it possible to move from singular experiences to universal structures detected in culture and society? Could psychoanalysis applied to art works become more sensitive to their aesthetics form?

Psychoanalysis is often disclaimed as non-scientific, since its main object – the unconscious – has no positive existence. This book, however, proposes psychoanalysis to be a “science of the signifier”. It takes as its object the signifier – the signifying part of the sign – insisting that it always says more (or less) than intended, because its very materiality carries unintended messages. By defining the object of psychoanalysis as the signifier, this volume argues that we can speak of psychoanalysis as a science, even if it is closer to semiotics than biology.

Analysing the Cultural Unconscious’ builds on this idea by arguing that the analysis of the signifier is the way to understand not only the individual unconscious, but also the cultural one. Replacing a person’s monologue on the couch with ideology criticism or a piece of art, applied psychoanalysis allows us to analyse culture and the arts in a new way, uncovering the cultural unconscious.

Table of Contents:

Part I: Science and the Signifier
1. The Cunning of the Signifier by Henrik Jøker Bjerre
2. The Echo of the Signifier in the Body: On Drives Today by Juliet Flower MacCannell
3. Secret in the Body – the Fantasy Structure of Genes and Brains by Renata Salecl

Part II: From Couch to Culture
4. Drives and Culture by Mladen Dolar
5. Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac and the Four Discourses by Kirsten Hyldgaard
6. Courtly Capitalism by Center for Wild Analysis
7. Is there a Way out of the Capitalist Discourse? by René Rasmussen

Part III: Application
8. Examples and Surplus-Meaning by Brian Benjamin Hansen
9. Literature as Philosophy of the Real: Ethics and Sexual Difference in Coetzee’s Disgrace by Kari Jegerstedt
10. When I am Beside Myself by Linus Nicolai Carlsen
11. Analysis Sounds Boring – Is there an Analytical Potential in Modern Electronic Music? by Anders Ruby

Part IV: Materiality and the Signifier
12. Lol V. Stein to the Letter by Ida Nissen Bjerre
13. Lacan and the Archeology of the Subject by Carin Franzén
14. The Signifiers of Cherry Ripe – On the Trauma and Repetition of an Art-historical Motif by Jakob Rosendal
15. Colour of Flesh, Flesh of Colour by Lilian Munk Rösing

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