What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a master. You will get one.

December 15, 2009

I have been reading Sherry Turkle’s Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud’s French Revolution and it has come to my attention that this quote was not said during the “May days” but in their aftermath at the newly-founded Department of Psychoanalysis at the University of Paris at Vincennes. This program (and further, this branch of the university itself) was created as an experiment in education, and was held by many – including analysts who taught there and students who attended classes – to be a mere trap for Marxists and other radicals in order to keep them out of trouble by focusing their energies on other things. Turkle describes how this campus was vandalized and disrespected by its students to the extent that desks and chairs were maimed and twisted in such a way that they could be neither used nor removed, floors were used as ashtrays and graffiti covered its classroom’s walls.

This program was also the ground for a further melee around the fundamental contradictions of analysis – i.e. arguments that had developed in the Lacanian and psychoanalytic movement over the preceding decade or two around the relationship of theory to practice, as well as the question of self-authorization of analysts and their certification/organization by/in psychoanalytic institutes. That is, many students attending this program expected to become, or told themselves that they already were, practicing analysts although they were not receiving analysis as part of their academic program, nor were they told that such an end was in their future. It was these students and these expectations that were on display in Lacan’s seminar of 3 December, 1969 which prompted the above remark and the premature end of a planned 4-seminar series (174-188).

Turkle provides the ground to compare all this to Lacan’s position during the May events. In addition to stressing the strongly anti-authoritarian bend of Lacanian theory that made it so attractive to the radicals of ’68, she adds the following on Lacan’s support for the actions of May:

There is the Lacan who signed manifestos in support of the striking students in May 1968, and the Lacan who sided with jailed student leaders. There is the Lacan who warned the students not to be seduced by the government’s attempts to cool them out with the promises of dialogue and participation: “There is no such thing as dialogue, it is a swindle.” And of course, there is the story, so much a part of the folklore that it even made its way across the Atlantic to be reported in The New Yorker magazine, of Lacan putting student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit in the back of his own Jaguar and successfully smuggling him across the border into Germany (86).

Turkle is ambivalent on this point, however, using this list of examples as part of a myth that helped cover the gap between the relevance of the clinical for the political.

The idea that this comment was meant for the students of May ’68 in general has been perpetuated by the image that was chosen for the cover of the French publication of The Other Side of Psychoanalysis: Cohn-Bendit confronting a police officer (the first image that currently appears on the ‘next-meeting’ page). Looking at the inside cover of the English edition it becomes clear that the French edition wasn’t published until 1991. This is to say that it is unlikely that this image was chosen by Lacan. Given that this comment was made under very specific circumstances, the question becomes one of whether or not there is evidence to suggest that it was the opinion Lacan held of ’68 in general.


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