9 thoughts on “The Lacan phenomenon

  1. I don’t think I’d call either one of them a “sociological study,” but Marcelle Marini’s “Jacques Lacan: The French Context” and Elisabeth Roudinesco’s “Jacques Lacan & Co: A History of Psychoanalysis in France, 1925-1985” are frequently cited histories that seem to take into consideration Lacan’s critical, academic and popular reception in ways that fit your query.

  2. It cetainly wasn’t ushered in by American psychoanalysis. I’m amazed reading papers by American analysts from the 50s, 60s, and 70s and next to nobody acknowledges Lacan.

  3. Don’t know how much light this sheds but Lacan first became ‘a thing’ with his dissertation that essentially laid the groundwork (as well as justified) the surrealist appropriation of Freud. Lacan was also quite on the scene. He was friends with Dali, was Picasso’s doctor, attended Kojeve’s Hegel lectures and pretty much knew everyone who mattered. He was even giving his seminar informally a few years before they started to get recorded in ’51. By that time Lacan was already firmly ensconced in middle age. A bit like Kant, it took a long time for him to become really famous, but there was a lot of work behind the scenes that went on for years prior to his making it big. His first book came out when he was in his sixties! (which only added all the more allure to his seminars and his couch). Roudinesco is great on this. I would also suggest Turkle’s Psychoanalytic Politics.

  4. WordPress gobbled my suggestion of Sherry Turkle’s Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud’s French Revolution as AD was posting his. It’s had three publishers now (most recently Guilford Press in ’92 with new material) since Basic Books first issued it in 1978.

  5. When I visit the link, it’s unclear what message I’m supposed to be taking away.

    I took away the message that I’m not allowed to know (“you have either reached a page that is unavailable for viewing or reached your viewing limit for this book”—google here squanders a perfectly good opportunity for syllepsis!).

  6. I was hoping it would be more of a sociological study than it turned out to be, but Francois Cusset’s “French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States” might be as close as we’re going to get to what you’re after. It doesn’t specifically focus on Lacan, but he’s a large enough part of the story.

    I’m always very interested in questions like how Lacan happened. It’s way to simple of an answer, but it seems like it has to do with the interplay of the following forces:

    1) Freud’s ideas are just too enormous and they cannot help but continue to produce effects. If a theorist of any era can offer a persuasive “update” of Freud’s theories to make them come alive again within the theoretical context of that era they are going to be important largely because they are riding the force of Freud’s ideas.

    2) Structuralism was what sociologist of knowledge call a “hot center.” To oversimplify quite a bit, Lacan did 1 using this hot center, which multiplied the effect.

    3) Lacan was obviously charismatic and that certainly helped.

    4) He wrote in a way that was loaded and difficult to decipher, offering the academic industry a lot of secondary work to do.

    5) The seminar is actually a very good way for ideas to become influential, and this has as much to do with the caliber of the attendees as it does the lecturer. Once Lacan’s seminars became the “happening” place to be, it gave his ideas a hyper-fertile environment. Almost no matter what they did with Lacan’s ideas, the people who attended the seminars were the most interesting and innovative thinkers at the time and they were bound to elevate Lacan’s status just by sharing him as a common influence and doing their own thing under his influence.

    6) Most importantly, Lacan could deliver the goods. His ideas really did explain things in a new way and open new vistas. One way that I like to think about this aspect of a thinker’s work is to try to imagine a sociological context in which their ideas would not take root. You’d have to come up with a pretty unusual set of circumstances for the power of Lacan’s ideas to completely fail to catch on is some significant way. I can imagine realistic contexts in which he is only considered a second-tier thinker, but the only contexts I can imagine in which Lacan is laboring in obscurity are worlds that are completely different from France in the 1950-70’s.

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