William James the Lacanian

From Psychology: The Briefer Course, chapter 2:

The first and foremost concrete fact which everyone will affirm to belong to his inner experience is the fact that consciousness of some sort goes on. “States of mind” succeed each other in him. If we could say in English “it thinks” as we say “it rains” or “it blows,” we should be stating the fact most simply and with the minimum of assumption.

33 thoughts on “William James the Lacanian

  1. When I first arrived in France in 1980 le MAGAZINE LITTERAIRE had a special number on Lacan. There was one article on the pseudo-scholarship and bricolage that composed his texts, i am just plagiarising from that. I think that the “It thinks” is a bad place to start if you want to attribute any originality to Lacan, or to consider it so “signed Lacan” that you are willing to consider retrospective inversions of influence..

  2. You may be reading some intentions into this post that aren’t there. I’m reading a lot of Lacan this term because I’m conducting a tutorial over his work, and meanwhile, I’ve been teaching William James. The correspondence surprised me — perhaps naively, who knows. That’s all.

    It’s weird how the “it thinks” is simultaneously a very widespread idea and something that Lacan has maliciously ripped off. It doesn’t seem to me that both can be true at the same time.

  3. “Widespread” maybe not, but discussed by a certain group of thinkers that preceded Lacan yes. So non-originality of Lacan on this point, yes! everyone knows it. Did Lacan rip off James? It’s possible. Did he, like Freud certainly did, rip off Nietzsche? Very probably. The historical parallel is amusing, so why not post it? It all depends on why it is amusing, which involves your appreciation of Lacan’s role in thought. I follow the classic Deleuzian line that Lacan’s thought is a compromise formation between his monist predecessor Freud and various pluralist insights that he integrated to correct or to pluralise the system partially. So yes, like Freud, Lacan feeds on, without giving proper recognition to, the “other image of thought” that Deleuze explicitly links with the names of Nietzsche, Groddeck (a little), and William James. I do not speculate about your intentions, but I am surprised at your surprise at the resemblance.

  4. Is ‘rip off’ really a word that anyone uses anymore? Maybe technology companies in patent court. Welcome to the continental tradition where people, you know, comment on other texts.

  5. The similarity is amusing for cultural reasons: the archetypal American pragmatist holds a position on a hugely important issue that is in many respects identical to that of the very embodiment of baroque continental decadence. And since I tend to be on the continental “side” of this particular cultural divide, I entitled the post “James the Lacanian” instead of “Lacan the Jamesian.”

  6. I’m not sure why Stephen’s comment on “rip off” was “directed at Terence”. No Stephen, “rip off ” is not a word used by people, it is in fact two words. It was Adam’s expression, not mine. My poor terms were “bricoleur plagiarist” and “retrospective inversions of influence” (you know, like when Artaud claimed to have been plagiarised retrospectively by future generations” thus concretising what Bergson called the “retrograde movement of truth”). I am in the continental tradition of philosophy and i have staked my life on it, so welcome to hubris land where Stephen can correct me for a “fault” his teacher made and give me lessons in reading and cultural reference.

  7. I’m also not attributing retroactive causality to Lacan. The temporal impossibility of James being an actual “Lacanian” produces a jarring effect that, for many human beings, is associated with a thing called “humor.”

  8. Stanley Cavell talks a lot about the Emersonian influence on Nietzsche, which is obviously a vector through which notions in one intellectual current might pass into another.

  9. Well, as usual Adam, you have achieved your personal “jarring” effect in spades. It seems I jarred you back, which explains why I have no real reply.
    By the way i was not really attributing a belief in time travel to you, that was….

  10. I posted the above without having read the rather overheated comment thread.

    I do think that Lichtenberg is the originator of the “it thinks” thing, or at least functionally its originator for those who came after him. Presumably Daniel Lindquist will shortly drop in and point out that it was in earlier use by the Scholastics or something.

  11. Lichtenberg sounds fine to me, especially given Nietzsche’s (and Wittgenstein’s) enthusiasm for his aphorisms.To go back beyond the scholastics, maybe we should look at the Upanishads (tat tvam asi, thou art that) which seemed to influence Pyrrho the sceptic etc.

  12. I’ve not encountered “it thinks” (like “it rains”) before Lichtenberg, and would’ve thought it obvious that James was referencing him here. Impressed that this comment thread got so long before anyone mentioned him.

  13. Recent deep-sky observations from the Hubble Telescope revealed the words “IT THINKS” inscribed on a globular supercluster, strongly suggesting the idea has been around since the period several hours after the Big Bang.

  14. I think the funniest comment was Daniel Lindquist’s and he was being serious. Imagine if he had made a joke about Galactus, who comes from a time before the Big Bang. But he would never do that, it would look too much like juvenile oneupmanship.

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