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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Ecrits: A Selection by Jacques Lacan, translated by Bruce Fink (W.W. Norton & Company) The experience of reading Lacan can be difficult for some, if not most of us; his work requires us to be active in our comprehension and imagination. For many years there has only been one translation of this important work, which has hampered Lacan's introduction to the Anglophone world. We now have a new translation and splendid it is! It does not give instant access to Lacan and the book still needs "active" reading, but it certainly helps. This modern translation - worked on by three people close to the work of Lacan - is fully annotated and referenced to give the reader a complete entry into the work as composed at the time (a hermeneutics of Lacan, perhaps?). We have many books about the work of this important psychoanalyst and thinker - but eventually the desire comes to read his original work and this translation certainly allows, supports and encourages this. This translation of the Ecrits will prove valuable for many years to come.

A major new translation of one of the most influential psychoanalytic works of modern times. Brilliant and innovative, Jacques Lacan's work has had a tremendous influence on contemporary discourse. Lacan lies at the epicenter of contemporary discourses about otherness, subjectivity, sexual difference, the drives, the law, and enjoyment. Yet his seemingly impenetrable writing style has kept many readers from venturing beyond page one. This new translation of selected writings from his most famous work offers welcome access to nine of his most significant contributions to psychoanalytic theory and technique, spanning thirty years of his inimitable intellectual career. Beginning with the formation of the ego in the mirror stage, these texts study the varied roles of meaning, speech, writing, aggression, transference, and desire in our lives.

The Cambridge Companion to Lacan by Jean-Michel Rabate (Cambridge University Press) Jacques Lacan is renowned as a theoretician of psychoanalysis whose work is still influential in many countries. He refashioned psychoanalysis in the name of philosophy and linguistics at a time when it faced certain intellectual decline. Focusing on key terms in Lacan's often difficult, idiosyncratic development of psychoanalysis, this volume brings new perspectives to the work of an intimidating influential thinker.

Lacan to the Letter: Reading Ecrits Closely by Bruce Fink (University of Minnesota Press) (Hardcover) To read Lacan closely is to follow him to the letter, to take him literally, making the wager that he comes right out and says what he means in many cases, though much of his argument must be reconstructed through a line-by-line examination. And this is precisely what Bruce Fink does in this ambitious book, a fine analysis of Lacan’s work on language and psychoanalytic treatment conducted on the basis of a very close reading of texts in his Écrits: A Selection.
As a translator and renowned proponent of Lacan’s works, Fink is an especially adept and congenial guide through the complexities of Lacanian literature and concepts. He devotes considerable space to notions that have been particularly prone to misunderstanding, notions such as "the sliding of the signified under the signifier,"or that have gone seemingly unnoticed, such as "the ego is the metonymy of desire." Fink also pays special attention to psychoanalytic concepts, like affect, that Lacan is sometimes thought to neglect, and to controversial concepts, like the phallus.

From a parsing of Lacan’s claim that "commenting on a text is like doing an analysis," to sustained readings of "The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious," "The Direction of the Treatment," and "Subversion of the Subject" (with particular attention given to the Graph of Desire), Fink’s book is a work of unmatched subtlety, depth, and detail, providing a valuable new perspective on one of the twentieth century’s most important thinkers.
Some of the readings Fink includes are directly clinical in orientation, fo­cusing on clinical issues raised in "The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of Its Power" and other texts in Écrits. The letter of the text is never far from view in examining such clinical matters, because we must correct the earlier translation that would have Lacan, employing a bridge metaphor for analysis, recommending that the analyst "try to expose" the analysand's hand instead of recommending that "the analyst strive to get the analysand to guess [lui faire deviner)" his own hand (E 589)—that is, the cards/contents of his unconscious. There is a whole world between these two projects, and that world is the world of mastery. It may be a small error, but it effaces the giant step Lacan takes away from those ana­lysts who see themselves as masters of knowledge, ready and able, owing to their prodigious "powers of insight," to pinpoint the subject's mainspring and reveal it to him. If the analyst is to get the analysand to guess his own hand, the analyst must be operating as object a, not as the all-knowing subject.

Chapter 1 lays out some of the most basic features of Lacan's approach to psychoanalytic treatment and examines in detail the longest account Lacan ever gives in print of one of his own cases (the obsessive man discussed in "The Direction of the Treatment"). It also presents Lacan's critique of Freud's position in the transference with a young woman whom Freud discusses in "The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman."

Chapter 2 elaborates on Lacan's claim that "commenting on a text is like doing an analysis" and outlines how and why Lacan's reading of Freud's texts is so different from those of many other post-Freudians. It also lays out Lacan's argument that many analysts' difficulties in clinical practice grow directly out of their rejection of certain facets of Freud's theory. Special attention is given to the question of affect (which Lacan is sometimes accused of neglecting), to acting out as seen in specific case studies, and to Lacan's attempt to psychoanalyze psychoanalysis.

Chapter 3 is more theoretical in scope and provides a sustained read­ing of "The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious, or Reason since Freud," in which I attempt to delineate what Lacan means by "the letter," as contrasted with "the signifier." Fink examines the rather unique rhetorical opacity of the first few pages of the text in light of Lacan's broader rhe­torical strategy, suggesting that much of his writing from around this point onward can be understood (at least at one level) as an analysand's discourse designed to train its readers. My sense is that Lacan was striving to cre­ate a new audience with much of his work, a new breed of analyst-critics adept at reading both the analysand's discourse and literary texts (which have a tendency to become intertwined to a greater or lesser extent in many cases). By elucidating his claim that figures of speech and tropes are related to defense mechanisms, Fink shows that even the most seemingly theoretical of discussions is directly clinical; indeed, the attempt to divide Lacan's work into theory (linguistics, rhetoric, topology, logic) and prac­tice (clinical psychoanalysis, technique) is seen to founder here.

Chapter 4 offers a detailed reading of "The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious," with particular attention to the workings of the Graph of Desire. The graph is shown to grow out of Lacan's "subversion" of Ferdinand de Saussure's schemas, and knowledge, truth, castration, and jouissance are all explored in consider-able detail here. The chapter explores tasks imposed on the analyst by the theorization of psychoanalytic treatment that is built into the graph.

The meaning of the term "phallus" in Lacanian theory is addressed in chapter 4, given detailed attention in chapter 5, and then elaborated on in relation to the so-called phallic function in chapter 6. Fink tries, in chapter 5, to make sense of Lacan's equation of the phallus with the square root of negative one (it makes a lot more sense than Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont would allow) and to clarify the distinctions between the symbolic, imagi­nary, and real phalluses.

In chapter 6, Fink turns to the definition of the phallus as the bar between the signifier and the signified. He emphasizes the fallibility inherent in the phallus, as Lacan conceives of it: the fallibility of phallic jouissance and the infallibility of the Other jouissance. In a detailed commentary on Seminar XX, Encore, On Feminine Sexuality, Fink examines the relation between knowl­edge and jouissance, the way speaking "of love is in itself a jouissance," and the kind of love Lacan terms "soulove." 

Fink’s concern has not been to indicate where Lacan went in later years with each of the concepts discussed in these texts—that is, to show how he revised his views as time went on—but rather to let each period of his theo­retical and clinical formulation stand alone. I have devoted considerable space to the unpacking of phrases that have, in my view, been especially prone to misunderstanding, such as the "sliding of the signified under the signifier" (E 502), or that have gone seemingly unnoticed, such as "the ego is the metonymy of desire" (E 640).

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