Desire in the era of neoliberalism: a lacanian reading of Haynes’ [safe]

In this paper, Lacanian psychoanalysis is employed to critically discuss notions concerning the subject’s desire in the era of neoliberalism. To do so, a quote by Margaret Thatcher is analysed through Lacan’s University discourse. By critically reflecting on this quote, neoliberal narratives surrounding accountability, ‘perfectibility’ and consumerism are explored through Lacanian theory. Parallels between Todd Haynes’ movie [SAFE] and Lacan’s notions of ‘divided subject’ and desire are critically reviewed within the neoliberal- University frame. The paper focuses on investigating how desire is exploited and manipulated by neoliberalism. It is argued that, in the neoliberal-University discourse, Lacan’s divided subject ($) – identified in Haynes’ movie with the character of Carol – deals with a particular type of alienation resulting from the demand of the neoliberal master for a whole, perfect subject (a). The Carol/$ is silenced within the modern neoliberal- University discourse, drowned by a constant noise (voice). In the final section, Kristeva’s and Ettinger’s notions of abjection and matrix respectively are discussed to forward both ways in which it is possible to resist the master signifier of neoliberalism; and to criticize Lacan’s conception of subjectivity.

The crack in the image: Virginia Woolf and Jacques Lacan on the limits of personality and the emergence of subjectivity

What is the difference between personality and subjectivity? Are there disciplinary and aesthetic delimitations of both concepts? And if so, what do they look like? These questions are underlying the argument of this paper. In looking for answers, the author turns to Lacanian psychoanalysis and Virginia Woolf’s theorising on the modernist novel, since both Lacan and Woolf offer, in their own way, a unique critique of the notion of personality. Whereas Lacan shows us the limits of personality as it was conceptualised by early psychiatry and the eminent French psychoanalyst Daniel Lagache, Woolf shows us the limits of this concept as it was implicitly proposed by her direct literary precursors, in particular by the famed novelist Arnold Bennett. Essential to both Lacan and Woolf’s position is the assertion that a subject arises where the notion of personality reaches its limit: one has to postulate an indeterminate object – in fact, the sheer form of an object –  for the subject to emerge. In the case of Lacan, this object is called objet a; in the case of Woolf, this object is found where realistic observation of experiential reality, as novelists working in the tradition of literary realism would have it, finds its limit. In fact, both Lacan and Woolf understand subjectivity as a position phantasmatically relating to an unknown X, and both their critiques of psychiatry/psychology and Edwardian realism respectively attest to this. The latter two had, namely, articulated theories of personality in which it was silently assumed that a personality is ‘full’ in itself, and that it could be captured scientifically, i.e. positivistically, and descriptively, i.e. realistically. Lacan and Woolf go against these tendencies: at the heart of subjectivity as well as at the heart of the novel there resides lack, and both contemporary psychoanalysis and the contemporary novel should render this palpable.

Three Psychoanalytic Readings of the Buddhist Emptiness

Both Buddhism and psychoanalysis show us alternative ways to bear human suffering. Buddhism teaches us the path of emptiness (śūnyatā), psychoanalysis that of sublimation. In this comparative literature study we explore how we can conceptualize the realization (jñāna) of emptiness based on the psychoanalytic conceptual framework. For this comparison we respectively use Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and Lacan’s seventh seminar, supplemented with secondary literature. In the process of sublimation an object is elevated to the dignity of the Thing. In order to understand the buddhistic emptiness we make a distinction between the metaphysics of emptiness, indicating an intellectual understanding of emptiness, and the realization (jñāna) of emptiness, which refers to the meditative penetration of emptiness. When one realizes emptiness and one sees reality like it is, one is free of attachment (taṇhā) or fixation. We offer three psychoanalytic readings of the buddhistic emptiness. In a first reading we follow Lacan’s definition of sublimation and as such consider the Thing as a source of evil. This reading is compatible with the metaphysics of emptiness. In a second and third reading we adapt Lacans definition of sublimation by restricting the Thing to an empty and unknowable space. This is compatible with Lacan’s conceptualization of the Thing based on his reading of Kant’s Critique of the Practical Reason. This redefinition of the Thing in Lacan’s conceptualization of sublimation we conceive as the alternative sublimation. This adaption is necessary to understand what Buddhism means by the realization of emptiness.