Reading English-language Arts and Literature with the Later Lacan

full name / name of organization: 
Jennifer Murray
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E-rea (Revue électronique d’études sur le monde anglophone) is seeking papers for a special volume to appear in the autumn of 2014.

Lacanian analysis of literature and the arts has not been in vogue in France for some time now. Following the publication of Écrits in 1966, there was a period of analytic fascination with the imaginary capture of the mirror phase and its intersection with the structures of the symbolic in both literary and film studies. Since the 1980s, academic engagement with Lacanian theory in the cultural field has been in a slump, and this for several reasons: the reputed difficulty of Lacan’s style as apprehended through Ecrits, the opposition of numerous feminist critics, and the general decline of theory in the field of literary studies.

Today, in light of the growing force of scientistic conceptions of the human subject (at the level of intelligence, behaviour, reproduction, the limits of the body, mortality), Lacanian theory finds renewed relevance in its unwavering postulate of the subject as singular, unique and incalculable, insusceptible to scientific conclusiveness. It is the Lacanian real, generally underexamined amongst first wave Lacanians, which gives weight to this proposition insofar as the real is the point at which all systems fail, where the signifier encounters its impasse, and also, the beyond of this point; both what has not encountered signifying discourse and the structural impossibility of the signifier to produce an 'all' of meaning. Something always escapes the signifier. This missing 'something', the objet a in the Lacanian myth of the origins of subjectivity, takes us beyond the split of structuralism, beyond the subject of the signifier; the Lacanian 'speakingbeing' is foundationally dislocated by a mode of jouissance (civilised by lalangue, the pre-signifying letter of language) that entails "a disruption of self-identity" (Copjec, Imagine There's No Woman: Ethics and Sublimation, 2002). It is in this sense, according to Colette Soler (Lacan, l’inconscient réinventé, 2009), that Lacan affirms "The Real is the mystery of the speaking body".

It is primarily due to the influence of Slavoj Zizek (Enjoy Your Symptom: Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out, 1992) and his analyses of film and literature, that Lacanian theory within Anglophone studies has been brought back into the domain of the speakable, the thinkable, and perhaps even the desirable, revalorizing its potential for clarification of the ways in which subjectivity can be understood structurally (through language) but also as the site where the absolute singularity of the human subject meets its historical context: "The contribution of Lacan for our present time is therefore doubly important: on the one hand, it allows us to acquire a clear structural understanding of the [economic] crisis as a crisis of the symbolic; on the other hand, it reaffirms the irreducibility of the desiring subject as such" (Alain Badiou, Jacques Lacan: Passé Présent - Dialogue, 2012). It is this insistence on the radical singularity of each human subject, intrinsic to Lacanian theory that makes of it a means of thinking against the determinist discourses of our times.

This is true not only for the subject of capitalist discourse but also for the question of sexual difference. The debate on the implications of sexual difference has become, in the contemporary period, enmired in a binary struggle between sex and gender (one might say 'Huston vs. Butler'). Lacan's theory of sexuation, by contrast, consists in an attempt to rethink sexual difference from a non-binary perspective. Other concepts also move critical issues beyond their current point of articulation: lalangue, the pre-symbolic letter that marks the subject in its earliest being undercuts the autonomy of the imaginary-symbolic axis of the subject. If the symptom marks the subject's "point of exception to the established form of social bond and is connected to the jouissance of the body" (Lissy Canellopoulos, "The Bodily Event, Jouissance and the (Post)Modern Subject," 2010), the sinthome designates the subject's singular way of knotting together the registers of the real, the symbolic and the imaginary, and on occasion, making up for the absence of the Name-of-the-Father (rejoining the second of Badiou's concerns). Such are some of the relatively unexplored dimensions of Lacanian theory which might illuminate our readings of classic and contemporary culture and its objects.

In addition to the work of Slavoj Zizek, notable interventions in the field of cultural analysis include Ellie Ragland's "Eyes Wide Shut, The Woman Not Seen" (European Journal of Psychoanalysis, 2005); Juliet Flower MacCannell's reading of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale in "Things to Come: a Hysteric’s Guide to the Future Female Subject" (Supposing the Subject, 1994), or the work of Joan Copjec.

As the expression of a desire to give renewed attention to this critical orientation and to revitalize its debates and uses for contemporary analysis of culture, E-rea is seeking articles which analyze literary, filmic, or other artistic productions from the English-speaking world from a Lacanian perspective. If Encore, as the inaugural text of the period of the 'later Lacan' may serve as a point of reference, analyses which mobilize such key concepts as sexuation, lalangue, other jouissance, ethics, the sinthome, or, that elusive concept - love - will be welcome. Addressing a wide audience of Anglophone scholars and students, concepts should be clarified to illuminate their use in the analyses.

Papers may be written in English or in French.

Proposals should be sent to Jennifer Murray

September 30, 2013: deadline for proposals (title, abstract, 5 bibliographical references)

October 15, 2013: notification of acceptance for peer-reviewing process

January 31, 2014: deadline for submission of the final articles (6000-8000 words)

April 30, 2014: papers will have been peer-reviewed

June 30, 2014: deadline for final version of articles.

E-rea's contributor guidelines may be consulted at:

cfp categories: 
modernist studies