In an essay published in 1998 entitled ‘Cartesian Subject versus Cartesian Theater,’ Slavoj Žižek sets himself the task of locating, against the grain of Hegelian thought, the beginnings of a history of the decentered subject. 1 Far from the recent phenomenon it purports to be, Žižek says, the struggle with the decentered subject is already emerging in the work of such German Idealist writers as Holderlin, Novalis, and Schelling. Rather than wrestle with prototypical precursors of decenteredness or their rationalist antagonists, however, Žižek chooses to interpellate more recent theorists of the decentered self: consciousness theorists like Daniel Dennett. 2 But while Žižek’s argument has points of similarity to my own - that studies such as Dennett’s develop a theory of consciousness that denies its unconscious element, and that this denial amounts to a kind of repression that, ironically, constructs a theory of the unconscious within the very work itself - he does not, as do I, locate this torsion primarily within the conceptual frame of the theatrical, a frame that I believe essential to the understanding of identity’s stagings.
I am, then, suggesting in this essay that the many discourses of consciousness that have recently appeared are haunted by the unconscious specifically through the appearance and disappearances of the theatrical within those discourses. I do not intend to show here that theories of consciousness are somehow inevitably imbued with a performative unconscious (although they may very well be) but will instead suggest the nuance of mise-en-scène in the warp and woof of consciousness theory, and thus underscore the performative subtleties of psychoanalysis as an approach to the understanding of consciousness. Finally, I will suggest that theater as both concept and theoretical category is both crucial to and far more consonant with the movements of psychoanalysis and consciousness than many of the current rubrics of ‘performance’ and the performative.
Jean: I’ve never seen anything like it. She’s crazy!
Kristine: She always has been, but never as bad as the last two weeks since her engagement was broken off.