Academic journal article Helios


Academic journal article Helios


Article excerpt

The dissemination of the thought and works of Jacques Lacan continues, as his Seminars are edited, published, and translated. This has not only opened up psychoanalytic theory to a wider intellectual audience in the United States, but also popularized his provocative readings of an array of classical texts, including, but not limited to, Sophocles' Antigone and Oedipus Tyrannus, Plato's Symposium, and Aristotle's Physics and Poetics. One consequence is that cultural theorists in general, and psychoanalytic theorists in particular, have been forced to revisit these canonical ancient works. A second consequence is that many classicists have been confronted with psychoanalytic theory through the power of such interpretations. Finally, and possibly most compellingly, it is slowly dawning on the public that psychoanalysis cannot be detached from its classical roots--indeed, that it may owe its modern definition precisely to the ancient. The well-known hope of Freud--for a research program that would link the clinical research projects of psychoanalysis to broader cultural and humanistic inquiry, where classical studies would have a prominent place--is perhaps as alive as ever.

Even so, this recent turn of events--the growing sophistication of Lacanian analysis and its diffusion across academic fields--has generated problems. On the one hand, Greco-Roman antiquity has come to mean, for too many, little more than a series of well-known readings of these canonical texts. On the other, though it is rare to find any classics conference here or abroad without an animated discussion of Lacan's successes and failures, or a theoretical paper without some passing reference to him in either text or footnotes, such discussions tend to remain marginalized, betraying both a great interest in his importance and yet a certain disciplinary anxiety.

This volume of papers in one sense tries to bridge the gap between two intellectual communities: Lacanians, with an interest in antiquity that has come from Lacan, and classicists, who have found that Lacanian ideas have opened up or complicated their ideas about antiquity. We began with a simple idea: to invite respected Lacanian scholars to make use of Lacan to reflect on aspects of antiquity largely ignored by Lacan, and to invite professional classicists to make use of Lacanian theory as part of their inquiries into the culture of the ancient world. (1) This volume is the fruit of such an encounter, but in another sense it argues for the transparency of interests across these two worlds: to understand Lacan is to be able, as it were, to read Greek and Latin--Lacan often thinks in Greek and Latin. There are problems to face in this communication across times and cultures, to be sure, but the pervasive references in psychoanalysis from Freud onwards cannot be merely effaced. We should emphasize that the essays collected here are not Lacanian readings of ancient texts; rather, they address problems that are of equal relevance to both Lacan and the classics--forms of subjectivity, constitution of philosophical objects, readings of literary and philosophical texts.

Without summarizing the essays to come, it is worth providing a brief sketch of what a Lacanian-classical research program might offer to Lacanians and classicists alike. A simple answer is that such a program puts a theory of the subject back on our agenda, and it is the overlap between ancient theories of the subject and Lacanian theories that will be central in much of what follows. Thus, a few brief remarks on, first, how Lacanian theory might allow us to reimagine antiquity and, then, how the complexities of ancient thinking about the subject might allow us to complicate Lacan.

I. Classical Antiquity with Lacan

The Freudian world isn't a world of things, it isn't a world of being, it is a world of desire as such.

JACQUES LACAN, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book 2

One way of approaching Lacan is to see him as the most sustained critic of any humanist or essentialist thinking. …

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