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Lacan On Las Meninas: The Visual Structure Of The Human Subject

The Letter, Issue 12, Spring 1998, Pages 25 - 40


Brendan Staunton

Psychoanalysis is the science of the particular.

J. Lacan


The Telescope, Microscope and the Scopic Drive

This paper summarises some of Lacan's thinking on Velasquez's Las Meninas, a painting that art experts voted the greatest ever painted in 1985.[l] For Lacan, the particularity of this painting is that it incarnates one of his four fundamental objects of psychoanalysis, that of the look. For me, it also embodies the psychoanalytic method, a method grounded in a conception of the human subject that is new, that is 'Copernican'.

This summary, (not a report), is an effort to evoke something of why Lacan took an interest in this painting, which of course was not the first time he spoke about the visual arts, in order to teach the structure of phantasy, the scopic drive, the lost object, the look, the cause of desire, (that which we refuse to relinquish). Desire, constituted by lack, implies divided subjects, where 'desire is the metonomy of Being in the subject'.

The work under consideration at this Congress is a continuation of Lacan's Seminar XI, What is a Painting?,[2] where he spoke about Holbein's The Ambassadors, in the context of the gap between the look and the gaze. We will now remind ourselves of this painting from 1533, before moving to 1656 and Velasquez. (It is interesting that both paintings are set in a royal court).

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