Jacques Lacan

By: Mark Kingwell
April 13, 2011

So much time, so few things to say! French psychoanalyst and performance artist JACQUES LACAN (1901-81) understood that the Freudian fifty-minute hour was just a species of game, an elaborate permission to defer. He countered with the idea of the “variable-length session,” a rendezvous between analyst and analysand that might last as little as five minutes and would distill the essence of a psychic breakthrough. Even though Lacan considered his work a recovery of Freudian orthodoxy, beating back the influence of object-relations theory, his other ideas are equally perverse. Pleasure is painful. Error, not correctness, is the site of truth. Desire seeks the Real but is trapped in the Symbolic order of language and representation. Lacan succeeds in occluding thought even as he reveals its mechanisms. His famous weekly seminar drew a generation of brilliant students but endlessly defied definitive interpretation; see it instead as an instruction manual for intellectual hypnotism, or a sly exercise in collective hallucination. Celebrated as a post-structuralist pioneer, derided as a charlatan and provocateur, Lacan was, in fact, the logical extension of the surrealists whose work he long admired. His lasting value is, in turn, that he is the condition of possibility for the existence of a devoted intellectual superfan who would link his name with Hitchcock, Highsmith, and Holmes. Where Jacques was, there Slavoj shall be!


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Samuel Beckett.

READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled generation (1894-1903).

What do you think?

  1. Surrealist. Thanks–that helps a lot! Let’s hope they get the news over at the Center for Curatorial Studies.

  2. Marvellously articles such as this on Hilobrow have taught me to read critical theory as an “instruction manual for intellectual hypnotism”; now I find that not only can I now read it, I can also write it, so long as I am in a sufficiently suggestive and hypnagogic state.

  3. Brilliant. Bracing. Cogent.

    Words I usually reserve for gifted undergraduates (and not just because I don’t make the time to write out long soliloquies of praise), appear here to laud the prose of Mark Kingwell–this is one hell of a posting. Better even, dare I say, than renderings that used to appear in LINGUA FRANCA, the ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE for my generation of ivory tower denizens back in the day.

    One last thing in this thinly disguised mash note: am I the only person in graduate school during the 80s to have confused, if only owing to the homonymics, Jacques Lacan and Chaka Khan? (ok, not JUST owing to the homonymics: “objet petit a” and “Father He Said” (1981) having unruly resonances.


  4. William, so funny that you say that about Jacques Lacan and Chaka Khan — I’ve noticed that, too.

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