SCIENCE OF THE SIGNIFIER. ANALYZING THE CULTURAL UNCONSCIOUS
• Juliet Flower MacCannell
• Mladen Dolar
• Renata Salecl
• Kari Jegerstedt
During the last decades psychoanalysis has gained in influence within cultural studies and sociology. The thinking of Freud and Lacan, and their analytical practice, has been reread, reclaimed, and reenacted, notably by the neo-Lacanian so called “Slovenian” school.
But what are we actually doing when we are transferring the psychoanalytical practice from the clinic to the analysis of society, art, and culture? What kind of knowledge does applied psychoanalysis produce? What kind of object does it produce? How does it do it? By which concepts and formalizations, and what status do these concepts and formalizations have? How is it possible to move from the singular experience on the couch to universal functions and structures to be detected in culture and society?
To take psychoanalysis from the clinical practice into the analysis of culture and society was an ambition already with Freud and has been practiced in sociology and the humanities ever since. In academic psychology, as the discipline has directed itself still more towards positivism and natural science, psychoanalysis is often viewed as a historical stage that we have surpassed and left behind. How come, then, that it keeps insisting and producing analysis in sociological and cultural studies? Has the Slovenian re-reading of Lacan opened up new potentials in psychoanalysis to teach us about not only the subject on the couch, but also art works and cultural and social phenomena?
When it comes to the analyses of art works, the neo-Lacanian analyses have a tendency to focus more on plot, themes, and characters than on aesthetic form. How could psychoanalysis applied to art works become more sensitive to aesthetic form?
With this conference we wish to create a space for the discussion of the methods and problems of the neo-Lacanian revival of applied psychoanalysis. As keywords to the talks and papers we propose four topics:
• The social Unconscious
• From desire to drive
Formalization: On the most general level Lacan offers a formalization of psychoanalytical theory that makes it more applicable to levels and structures beyond the individual or the nuclear family. Lacan’s formalization even replaces concepts by mathematical notions and formulas (such as /S for the split subject, S (/A) for the feminine position). What kind of insight do these formulas produce? Are they laws or generators of thought? What is the relation between formula and example?
The Cultural Unconscious: The fundamental psychoanalytic concept is of course the concept of the unconscious. A concept that has an uncertain ontological status (does it really exist?), but this would go for every scientific breakthrough in sociology and the humanities, it does not only produce new knowledge, it also discovers a new object of an uncertain ontological status: “Class” (Marx), “La langue” (Saussure), “Discourse” (Foucault) etc. What kind of knowledge is produced when you presume the unconscious if not to exist, then to insist? That is, when you presume that any structure of signifiers (be it a work of art, a politician’s statement, a social formation, or something else) signifies something that escapes the consciousness of the subject(s) producing it.
From Desire to Drive: If Lacan’s re-reading of Freud implies a formalization of the psychoanalytical concepts and an emphasis on the linguistic structure of the unconscious, the Slovenian re-reading of Lacan is characterized by a special interest in the transition from desire to drive, from the symbolic/imaginary order (the order of signifiers and images that structure our social life) to the real (that which escapes being shaped by signifiers and images), from an existentialist heroism of the lack to an emphasis on the excessive presence, not least in ideology, of enjoyment. What does this transition imply, what are its consequences?
Intervention: The neo-Lacanian practice of applied psychoanalysis may be termed a “wild analysis”. This term is coined by Freud in 1912, when in an essay he tells the story of a doctor who has practiced such “wild analysis” by right away telling a woman patient that her anxiety could only be cured by matrimonial sex, adultery, or masturbation. Freud disapproves of this premature “intervention”, neglecting resistance and transference. If still ethically problematic when applied to the individual on the couch, the premature “intervention” seems to produce insights when applied to society and culture. It is the moment when the analyst “jumps to conclusions”, suggesting the problem to be opposite or quite different from what common sense would have, taking the thought in a surprising direction that is not prepared for. How can this figure be further defined? What kind of insight does it produce? Is it not completely at odds with academic standards of knowledge?
The conference has its base in the inter-disciplinary network of psychoanalytically inspired researchers that has grown strong in Denmark during the last years, and the newly founded “Selskab for Teoretisk Psykoanalyse” (“The Society for Theoretical Psychoanalysis”). The network and society imply members from different disciplines (literature, cultural studies, philosophy, history of ideas, sociology, psychology) within different faculties (humanities and social science). The aim of the conference is to establish an academic base, as well as a critical reflection of, the practice of applied psychoanalysis, and to continue the building of an international and interdisciplinary network of researchers within this field.
The conference will take place at Copenhagen University from August 25th (2pm) to August 27th (5pm). We call for 10 papers to be presented and discussed besides the keynote addresses. Each paper will have 30 minutes for presentation followed by 30 minutes of discussion. All presentations and discussions will be in plenary. Paper proposals should include title and 2-300 words abstract.
The conference fee will be 135 Euro, covering coffee/tea, lunches and a conference dinner. Without lunch and dinner the fee is 20 Euro.
Registration for the conference and/or submission of paper proposal at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 10 August 2016