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Introduction to Jacques Lacan

Lecturer: Bryan Cooke

Originally Taught: Summer School 2011

Alain Badiou once remarked that today, no philosophy could be worthy of the name that had not first survived a confrontation with the "anti-philosophy" of Lacan (who Badiou also refers to) as the 'greatest of our dead'.

Agreeing with Badiou that a budding philosopher must – if she is to earn her Aeolian harp, Piet Mondrian spectacles and subscription to New Left Review – spend at least some time in a bare-knuckle fist-fight against the man who has been dubbed the 'greatest psychoanalyst since Freud' (as well as a mad, matheme-drawing charlatan with a Napoleon-complex) this course will attempt to introduce Lacan's dizzying, hermetic, mercurial, and (in every sense of the word) stunning body of work, by offering a (necessarily limited) tour of some of Lacan's 'key concepts': desire and demand, the various senses of the "Big" Other, the objet petit a, truth as that which makes a hole in knowledge, tuche and automaton, the ethics of psychoanalysis, transference, the Freudian concept of 'cause', the mirror-phase and above all the three registers of the "imaginary, symbolic and real."

The course will also attempt to show why, Lacan has, in the last few decades been read not (as in the reading put forward by Les nouvelles philosophes) as a figure combining a 'no exit' structuralism with Burkean prophecies that all revolutions inevitably end in the replacement of one Master with another, but as an anti-historicist, anti-relativist theorist of the subject in the Cartesian tradition whose Platonic habit of bringing desire to the centre of philosophy does not only lead to a tragic pessimism, but also of the gaps in any given order of society through which something of "the great outdoors" (Meillassoux) can break through.

Lecture One
The first class will talk about Lacan's early work on "the imaginary", taking in his scattered remarks on the nature of paranoia, projection, aggression in regards to images of the self and other. I will also try to discuss a kind of psychogenesis of the subject in terms of the Other's desire (thus explaining the difference, at least as I see it, between need, desire and demand), as well as some of the philosophical implications of disputing the sovereignty of the ego, and of asking questions about philosophy's own desire.

Lecture Two
Day two will continue with the notion of symbolic versus the imaginary, describing the Big Other, symbolic castration and also the strange notion of psychoanalytic causality, that underlines Lacan's theory of the objet petit a.

Lecture Three

Here we will continue with some remarks about the Lacanian "Real", clinical practice, the goal of Lacanian psychoanalysis, the infamous "passe". I will also attempt to show the extent to which Lacan differs from figures like Barthes (on the one hand) and Foucault on the other, and why the interpretation put out by Guy Ladreau among others is disputable.

Fourth and fifth lectures

The content of these final lectures will turn around a series of issues raised in the first three lectures.

Recommended Preliminary Reading
Joan Copjec, Read my Desire: Jacques Lacan Against the Historicists.
Slavoj Zizek, Enjoy your Symptom!
The cartoon introduction to Lacan is also better than many other books in the same series, if you can make yourself seen to be reading it. I advise that you slip it between the covers of the French edition of the Écrits.

Reader will include extracts from various seminars, the Écrits and also some secondary material.


Intermediate. Although the course is introductory in the sense that no prior knowledge of Lacan is assumed, and that it attempts to prevent a sense of some Lacan's key ideas rather than to justice to the nuances of his (incredibly rich, as well as frequently bizarre and oracular corpus) the course will move quickly through difficult material. In addition, some knowledge of any of the following will be useful: Freud, Saussure, Plato or Badiou, but not necessary.