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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Adventures in Lacano-Marxism

Paul Allen Miller is a professor of comparative literature at the University of Southern Carolina. C-Blok, j.b., and I met him four years ago when he and his colleagues organized a conference on Psychoanalysis and Social Theory that the three of us went together. The conference is memorable for me for a number of reasons: (1) It was fun to drive to Columbia, SC, listening to music on the car stereo (Admittedly, there was a hegemonic struggle involving both consent and coercion over who will play the next CD!) (2) It was the first conference where C-Blok and I presented our work. (3) Zizek was there; he listened to and commented on our talk--albeit obliquely. (4) Afterwards, when he saw us (on his way to an ATM) in the porch of a nearby pub, drinking beer and having food, he stopped by us, quickly glanced at our food, and offered a concise class analysis of the situation: C-Blok, who was having fish and chips, was an intellectual trying to pass as a member of the working classes, j.b., who was having a steak, was an intellectual who aspires to the lifestyle of haute bourgeoisie, and me, who was having a hamburger, was simply a bland middle class intellectual. (5) And finally, and perhaps most traumatically, on our way back from the conference, we got caught in the middle of the worst storm of the century and it took us an unbelievably hellish 48 hrs to get back to Northampton, MA!

In any case, let me return back to Paul Allen Miller, the organizer of this memorable conference. In 2004, he wrote a book review for the The Cambridge Companion to Lacan (edited by Jean-Michel Rabate). He concludes this review with the paragraph that I quote below. I thought some of our comrades would be invigorated by these words, so I am reproducing them here:

Lastly, while Marxism's status as the untranscendable horizon of our intellectual authenticity may be a thesis that few would defend today, the fact is that many Anglo-American critics first came to Lacan through the Marxism of Jameson and Althusser. Moreover, as Zizek's own practice testifies, the concept of psychoanalysis as a politically progressive practice remains dependent on a certain reading of Marx. In this light, Joe Valente's essay, "Lacan's Marxism, Marxism's Lacan (from zizek to Althusser)," does an admirable job of detailing the various tensions, and at times downright contradictions, between these two bodies of thought. In the end, the essay itself did little to dissuade this reader from the conviction that a Marxism without psychoanalysis is of little use in the postmodern world and that a psychoanalysis without Marx has no political program worthy of the name, but it did offer a solid cautionary tale to all who would see these discourses as easily compatible or reducible one to the other. [From symploke vol. 12, no. 1-2 (Wntr-Spring 2004): 279-81.]

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