Patricia Stewart – Beyond Lacan

THE LETTER 24 (Spring 2002) pages 89-98

We are all familiar with the unique pleasures attendant on studying the work of Jacques Lacan. His complexity and his unparalleled ability to find the perfect equivocation upon which to balance his ideas have undoubtedly ensured that platitudes and simplifications concerning the nature of human subjectivity are no longer acceptable for anyone wishing to be taken seriously in the field of psychoanalysis. Many of us, I imagine, have experienced the dullness and banality of much of what passes for psychoanalytic theorizing after the brilliant intransigence of a Lacanian text. This being said, however, his legacy is not without its problems and I would like, briefly, to raise a few of them. The factor common to these difficulties concerns Lacan’s approach to the theorization of knowledge.

In correspondence to Lacan one brave soul, quoted by him in Seminar XVII, puts his finger on the problem thus. He asks: ‘In what way is the unconscious a key notion that subverts the whole theory of knowledge?’ This question underpins much of what follows.

What, then, are the problems?

Firstly, and most obviously, there is the problem of style. This is a well-worn criticism but one that continues to be relevant. The difficulty is exacerbated for those of us who study Lacan in English, an additional obstacle, with many of his idiosyncrasies appearing to admit of no…


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