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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.

Beyond alienation

Alienation is a pivotal concept in critical theory, going back to Rousseau, Hegel and Marx. In his theory on the becoming of the subject, Lacan gave the concept an even more radical and original meaning (there is no original essence whatsoever) and doubled it with a second process: separation. The central argument of this paper is that separation is a key concept for understanding how we can handle our contemporary alienation induced by neoliberalism.