What Can a Body Do? Psychoanalysis and the Logic of the Symptom

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Cornell Psychoanalysis Reading Group
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What Can a Body Do? Psychoanalysis and the Logic of the Symptom

The Psychoanalysis Reading Group at Cornell University invites submissions for its upcoming conference:

Featuring Keynote Speaker:

Tim Dean, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University at Buffalo (SUNY); author of Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking (2009), Beyond Sexuality (2000), and Gary Snyder and the American Unconscious: Inhabiting the Ground (1991); and co-editor of A Time for the Humanities: Futurity and the Limits of Autonomy (2008) and Homosexuality and Psychoanalysis (2001).

April 20-21, 2012
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York

What does the symptom know about the body, and how much of that knowledge can it tell? Psychoanalysis operates under the hypothesis of a body de-natured from the organism. According to Jacques Lacan, this is why we think: as he notes, the subject "thinks as a consequence of the fact that a structure, that of language … carves up his body, a structure that has nothing to do with anatomy. Witness the hysteric." De-natured from its status as organism, the body emerges as parceled and the symptom as "truth taking shape" (Lacan). The symptom "holds" the body: we do not want to let the symptom go, for the jouissance tied to its eruption props up our very being. In analysis, then, language works on the symptom: the analyst maneuvers to fragment the chain of meaning that has sustained the subject's individual body at the expense of its carved one, inviting the subject to encounter the truth of the structure, desire borne of language's effects on the body. Encountering such effects, however, threatens the stability of both the subject's "self" as well as its link to the social.

The symptom also speaks to the specificity of psychoanalysis as a clinical praxis; to the limits of its relevance for interpreting social or cultural phenomena beyond the clinic; and to the possibilities for interpretation implied by Lacan's late reformulation, following the literary example of James Joyce, of the symptom as sinthome, "a signifier that would have no sense at all, just like the Real." If the clinic of the neurotic symptom is the place where psychoanalysis thinks itself, what kind of knowledge can the analysand articulate about psychoanalysis as a practice in light of the sinthome's resistance to analysis? To what extent does the sinthome's relationship to knowledge and truth invite us to historicize the many ways—clinical, scientific, mathematical, political and aesthetic—the symptom both enables and limits the production of its perverse truth?

If psychoanalysis provides a support for the work of the symptom as a singular structure through which the body exerts itself in excess of both the ego's place within the social link and discursive taming of the body, how might we theorize this work's ability to extend into other terrains? From Freud's social and theological investigations (Moses and Monotheism or Totem and Taboo) to Lacan's claim that woman is the symptom of man to Octave Mannoni's anthropologies (Prospero and Caliban) to the Marxism of Louis Althusser ("symptomatic reading") or Slavoj Žižek ("How Marx Invented the Symptom") to, most recently, Tim Dean's work on different social organizations of sexual practice, psychoanalysis moves beyond the clinic to consider the logic of bodies within and against the limits of the social world. How does psychoanalytic thought, in its labor to enter into such practices, stay loyal to Lacan's insistence that it is the unconscious, not the analyst, which engages in the work of interpretation? Inversely, how might the internal logic of psychoanalytic thought depend on psychoanalysis's ability to articulate itself to this manifold of social activities, from literature to law, aesthetics to anthropology?

The deadline for submission of abstracts is February 1, 2012. Abstracts should not exceed 250 words; presenters will have 25 minutes each for their presentations with ample time for discussion afterward. Please send abstracts to the Psychoanalysis Reading Group at pargconference@gmail.edu. Notices of acceptance will be sent by February 15, 2012.