Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lacan and Writers

I've been trying to grasp the ideas of Jacques Lacan, which I find intriguing. I'm using the filter of Slavoj Zizek, who's a more readable writer than Lacan himself, whose prose, like that of so many French philosophers, is deathly boring.

I take Lacan's core idea that of the divide between conscious and unconscious which leads to paradox. For instance, the most upstanding man in church, the model of uprightness, might on Saturday night be the biggest sinner in the community-- or even a serial killer. On the other hand, the athiest who publicly rejects God in fact internalizes him, and may be more rigidly obsessed with rules than the believer. I'm not sure Lacan's notions are often true, but they're at least sometimes true.

How do Lacan's ideas apply to writers? I think of two instances where they might.

I remember in 2006 when the ULA protested a "Howl" celebration at Columbia University for its phoniness. When Jellyboy the Clown and I entered Miller Hall, where the "celebration" was taking place, it was like walking into a morgue. These upscale folks honoring the Beats were the most unalive uncelebratory unBeat rigidly constipated people I'd ever seen. They listened to a creaky recording of "Beat"-- not a lively version-- and you could hear absolutely nothing else. We'd entered a church service, and not a very lively one at that. High Mass at its most stifling. The Beats? Wild men? Joy? There was none of this. The Beats were treated by the unBeat audience as dead mummies to be silently worshipped, but dare not one behave in any manner resembling the actual Beats! It was a Lacanian paradox. Those who'd ostensibly rejected all rules had imposed upon themselves their own-- or really, brought the same rules and uptight behavior that the Beats thought they'd destroyed, back.

A second example might be the 3,000 or 30,000-- by now it might be 3 million-- system writers who signed a public petition proclaiming their support for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The petition, of course, asks them to do nothing. There's no commitment, and since everyone is signing it, including literature's One Percent, there's absolutely no risk. Most if not all of these writers gave no support to the Underground Literary Alliance when it was around making noise last decade. Some of them were actively hostile to it. The ULA was a very Occupy-like organization ten years ahead of the fact, with the difference that we wanted to apply our ideas of democracy to the literary realm itself. (And of course found, "You can't do that!")

What's a Lacanian analysis of the current petition? Mine is that by signing it, the writers publicly demonstrate their commitment to abstract concepts of concern and change-- without having to actually change anything. It's like walking around with a badge or sign on themselves that says, "I Care." Now designated publicly as virtuous, they're absolved from being so in reality. The Lacanian paradox is that those writers on the list are least likely to put Occupy ideas into action; to try to make them, in their own field-- where they wield actual influence-- a reality. They don't have to make them a reality! After all, they're on the list.

I'd look then, to find establishment writers of character, honesty, and integrity, for those names not on the list. Those not playing the phony game. I've spotted two surprising names not on the list, who you'd think would automatically be on there. I think I may have misjudged those fellows-- they may have more honor than I thought-- and wonder if I owe them an apology.

1 comment:

BradyDale said...

Huh, I might have to check this out. One of my "big ideas" is embracing the internal paradoxes. Not trying to be consistent... but accepting the inescapability of inconsistency. I have been digging Rorty, along these lines. I guess I should explore Lacan.
Eat the Babies!