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Formations of the Unconscious: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book V

por Jacques Lacan

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"When I decided to explore the question of Witz, or wit, with you this year, I undertook a small enquiry. It will come as no surprise at all that I began by questioning a poet. This is a poet who introduces the dimension of an especially playful wit that runs through his work, as much in his prose as in more poetic forms, and which he brings into play even when he happens to be talking about mathematics, for he is also a mathematician. I am referring to Raymond Queneau. While we were exchanging our first remarks on the matter he told me a joke. It’s a joke about exams, about the university entrance exams, if you like. We have a candidate and we have an examiner. – “Tell me”, says the examiner, “about the battle of Marengo.” The candidate pauses for a moment, with a dreamy air. “The battle of Marengo...? Bodies everywhere! It’s terrible... Wounded everywhere! It’s horrible...” “But”, says the examiner, “Can’t you tell me anything more precise about this battle?” The candidate thinks for a moment, then replies, “A horse rears up on its hind legs and whinnies.” The examiner, surprised, seeks to test him a little further and says, “In that case, can you tell me about the battle of Fontenoy?” “Oh!” says the candidate, “a horse rears up on its hind legs and whinnies.” The examiner, strategically, asked the candidate to talk about the battle of Trafalgar. The candidate replies, “Dead everywhere! A blood bath.... Wounded everywhere! Hundreds of them....” “But my good man, can’t you tell me anything more precise about this battle?” “A horse...” “Excuse me, I would have you note that the battle of Trafalgar is a naval battle.” “Whoah! Whoah!” says the candidate. “Back up, Neddy!” The value of this joke is, to my mind, that it enables us to decompose, I believe, what is at stake in a witticism. (Extract from Chapter VI)"--… (mais)
Adicionado recentemente porhelenahz, m10, Gomide, gordbarentsen, Ricardoav, erisdunn, vernaye
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Jacques Lacan's seminars have always been published in a sporadic, out-of-sequence manner. The first seminar to be published in both French and English was Seminar XI, for instance. The English translation of Seminar XIX only came out in August 2018, on the heels of Seminar V in 2017. Establishing a sense of the development of Lacan's ideas can be hard, given both this random choice of publication dates and the gaps in the record. How nice it will be when everything is available to read in its proper sequence.

I should start by saying that this work beautifully translated and produced. While many readers like Bruce Fink's translations of Lacan into English, I tend to regard Russell Grigg as the best. Both are excellent when it comes to clear and readable prose, but I feel that Grigg's theoretical grasp of Lacan's work as a whole is superior, and that this is reflected, in turn, in how he presents Lacan in translation.

One thing that is immediately noticeable about Seminar V is just how incredibly long it is. Lacan's other seminars usually clock in at somewhere between 150 and 300 pages, whereas this one is a massive 500 pages long. The reason is that so much of the seminar is taken up not only with commentary on Freud's work, but also a myriad of other contemporary psychoanalysts - Klein, Jones, Bouvet, etc. - that are now mainly of interest only to clinicians and historians.

At the heart of Seminar V is Lacan's exploration of the subject and Other, particularly how these connect through the symbolic order. Part 1, for instance, shows how intertwined this pair really is through a consideration of jokes and comedy: for a joke to work, Lacan points out, it ultimately has to be acknowledged by the Other. Part 2 explores how this idea relates to the Oedipus complex, with Lacan increasingly transforming this Freudian idea into something symbolic and formal. Part 3 looks at the difference between a demand (what is expressed through signifiers) and desire (what the subject actually wants), and how human desire is always mediated through language. Part 4 focuses more attention on the Other, especially in light of neurotic obsession.

Seminar V contains some important ideas that belong to what turns out to be the end of the "early" Lacan period, of the Lacan who is heavily influenced by Claude Lévi-Strauss's linguistic structuralism. There are rumblings in Seminar VI that something is about to change, resulting in the dramatic rupture that is Seminar VII on the topic of ethics and psychoanalysis, probably Lacan's greatest and important work. That will lead, in turn, to Seminar XI, in which Lacan returns to the questions of subject and Other presented here in order to begin a profound questioning of the viability of psychoanalysis itself. For that reason alone, Seminar V is important.

Nonetheless, I can't give this book more than three stars, because while it hints at the aforementioned breakthroughs, they have not yet even close to breaking the surface of Lacan's thought. What is striking about Seminar V is just how much this Lacan remains an avid disciple of Freud (and Lévi-Strauss) rather than a true innovator, so that while there are numerous glimmers of something more, they are draped in a language of psychoanalytic convention that I found really tedious to slog through, especially in the latter parts of the book.

Overall, then, Seminar V is one of those books you read mainly for historical purposes, to see where the seeds of what will become great ideas originated from, before they truly germinated and came into their own. ( )
  vernaye | May 23, 2020 |
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"When I decided to explore the question of Witz, or wit, with you this year, I undertook a small enquiry. It will come as no surprise at all that I began by questioning a poet. This is a poet who introduces the dimension of an especially playful wit that runs through his work, as much in his prose as in more poetic forms, and which he brings into play even when he happens to be talking about mathematics, for he is also a mathematician. I am referring to Raymond Queneau. While we were exchanging our first remarks on the matter he told me a joke. It’s a joke about exams, about the university entrance exams, if you like. We have a candidate and we have an examiner. – “Tell me”, says the examiner, “about the battle of Marengo.” The candidate pauses for a moment, with a dreamy air. “The battle of Marengo...? Bodies everywhere! It’s terrible... Wounded everywhere! It’s horrible...” “But”, says the examiner, “Can’t you tell me anything more precise about this battle?” The candidate thinks for a moment, then replies, “A horse rears up on its hind legs and whinnies.” The examiner, surprised, seeks to test him a little further and says, “In that case, can you tell me about the battle of Fontenoy?” “Oh!” says the candidate, “a horse rears up on its hind legs and whinnies.” The examiner, strategically, asked the candidate to talk about the battle of Trafalgar. The candidate replies, “Dead everywhere! A blood bath.... Wounded everywhere! Hundreds of them....” “But my good man, can’t you tell me anything more precise about this battle?” “A horse...” “Excuse me, I would have you note that the battle of Trafalgar is a naval battle.” “Whoah! Whoah!” says the candidate. “Back up, Neddy!” The value of this joke is, to my mind, that it enables us to decompose, I believe, what is at stake in a witticism. (Extract from Chapter VI)"--

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