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Jacques Lacan’s Comrades and Rivals

Your favorite critic has plenty of frenemies.


André Breton

Such a wacky guy—that surrealist Breton. (Surrealism isn't all melting clocks and pictures of doll parts all piled up in creepy and suggestive ways, by the way). My buddy Breton has always had a soft spot for psychoanalysis. First he got cozy with Freud in the 1920s, and then he took a liking to me.

How's that? Well, his 1930 publication on surrealism and the revolution gave two thumbs up to my doctoral dissertation (how many people can say that?). Then, in 1933, Breton got the surrealist publication Minotaure off the ground with "contributions of psychoanalysis," including an article I wrote on paranoia. Breton's always been a big supporter, which has given me major street cred and helped popularize psychoanalysis with the arty set.

Claude Lévi-Strauss

What do a French anthropologist and a French psychoanalyst have in common? Well, for starters, we're both French. But Claude and I share a heck of a lot more than that. He sits in on my seminars, which is, of course, flattering, although he has confessed that he can't comprehend a word I'm saying.

Which is pretty much beside the point. Ol' Claude's just drawn to my charismatic personality. Or in his words, "What was striking was the kind of radiant influence emanating from both Lacan's physical person and from his diction, his gestures. I have seen quite a few shamans functioning in exotic societies, and I rediscovered there a kind of equivalent of the shaman's power" (source). Spoken like a true anthropologist!

But we're more than just fast friends. See, Claude started a whole thing called structural anthropology, which then led to French structuralism. His ideas about signification (more on that later) really inspired my work Écrits (1966), in which I discuss how the unconscious is "structured like language." So we're intellectually compatible, too.

Louis Althusser

I met Louis at that esteemed institution of braniacs—the École Normale Supérieure (referred to as ENS by the few who have been accepted there). Anyway, I was at ENS teaching my celebrated seminar and he picked up a few thoughts about the "split subject" and alienation from "the Big Other." Confused? Well, basically he drew upon my ideas about how ideology works its tricks in society. Allow me to explain.

See, before I came to the rescue, everyone was running around spouting Marxist interpretations of ideology (in other words, they believed that as a society, we can't deal with being part of capitalism because that means we unavoidably buy stuff produced from the exploitation of labor blah blah). Then here comes little old me.

I've replaced this as the theory du jour by convincing people that they would get their experience better if they just stopped looking at the world in terms of Marxist mumbo jumbo and began concentrating on how we make the world after we enter the "symbolic order."

And Althusser's totes on my side. He believes we should stop all the hand wringing about how we are wearing jeans made by an oppressed worker doing 14-hour shifts and start thinking about how we can find our way in the "real conditions" of life because we rely too much on words.

Oh, I almost forgot: Louis helped me get my appointment as lecturer at École Practique des Hautes Etudes (another fancy institution), so I owe him big time.

Melanie Klein

Melanie's a real FOP (friend of psychoanalysis) and just so happens to be the first object relational theorist. That's a fancy way of saying that she believes the way we relate to others as grownups is dictated by our feelings as infants. (Let that be a warning to bad parents!)

Melanie and I see ourselves as a band of "True Freudians." We get together over a glass of Pinot Noir now and again and discuss our shared love of paranoia, the psychotic concerns of infants, and our desire to get at unconscious determinism. Although she is convinced that people focus their feelings of love and hate toward objects, and I like to see the world through the lens of language, linguistics, and structural anthropology, those differences haven't stopped us from being BFFs.

Luce Irigarary

Ah, the rare feminist theorist who loves men. Being friends with Luce is like kicking it with a super smart prom queen. She hangs out at my seminars and has become one of my disciples—and I don't use that word lightly. I didn't take it personally when she wrote a revolutionary text that slammed Lacanian thought for being phallocentric. It was all in good fun. It's what smart people do for a laugh.


Marie Bonaparte

I may be one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, but that doesn't mean I'm a good judge of character. I should've known not to mess with anyone who has the same last name as Napoleon. See, Marie's really tight with Freud's daughter, Anna Freud, and even facilitated her escape from the Nazis to London. She and Anna then basically ganged up on me and Melanie Klein, claiming that she—Marie—was the princess of true Freudian thought! The competition has got really heated. Let's just say I'm not on Marie's good side.

Odette Codet

I'm telling you: dames are trouble. Odette, along with her partner in crime, Marie Bonaparte, turned against me after we banded together against the medicalization of psychoanalysis. Our differences have become too great to bear. It wasn't enough for her to ignore me when we saw each other in the Latin Quarter—she called for "a motion of non-confidence" (a big thumbs down) for me as President of the Société Psychanalytique de Paris (SPP)—then she later became president herself! Nervy, wouldn't you say?

Serge Lebovici

Ah, yet another psychoanalyst who's no friend to me. Serge has joined forces with that pesky Anna Freud to criticize my work. Ugh. The guy's basically a tattletale—he went running off to the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) to tell them that my Institut de Psychanalyse had too many students and was only offering twenty minutes of analysis a week. (Um, hello? It's called variable-length sessions, jerk.) This whole mess led to the IPA ruling against me, so we've started our own splinter group.

And now we're all in this mess called "Lacanians against Lacan." (How jacked is that?) See, Lebovici went out on a limb and created his own brand of psychoanalysis, which makes him my personal enemy. I, personally, am for the Lacan side of things (obvi). A bunch of loyal followers and I have banded together and formed the French Society of Psychoanalysis. But of course it's not all hearts and flowers in our group either because some of my peeps think I'm being too loosey-goosey with my interpretations of Freud.

You can't please everyone I guess.

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