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Lacan Reads Rousseau: A Narrative Instance Of The Body-In-Pieces

The Letter, Issue 19, Summer 2000, Pages 92 - 116


Katharine Swarbrick

Lacan reads Rousseau: a narrative instance of the body-in-pieces

Book VII of Rousseau's Confessions involves the story of an encounter between Jean-Jacques and Zulietta, a Venetian courtesan, which presents one of the richest highlights of an autobiography whose status is paradigmatic. I have read this episode in conjunction with a spectrum of Lacanian theory which has as its focus the psychopathological incidence of anxiety and its effects on the emotional and perceptual faculties of the human subject. My objective in bringing Rousseau and Lacan together is to look afresh at the possibilities yielded by psychoanalytic inquiry into the work of Rousseau, and to provoke further exploration and discussion of the ways in which our understanding of autobiographical texts can be revitalised by detailed readings inspired by the work of major psychoanalytic thinkers.

Psychoanalysis abounds with idols in the form of idealised figures which it theorises as projections of the idealised image of the self. The analyst thus proposes that the idealisation of the human form is dictated by narcissism, and is both intersubjective and intrasubjective in nature.[1] In Lacanian theory these two related levels are structured by the interplay of three psychical registers; and it is on a particular relation between the registers that the cohesion of the idealised form of the body rests. The Imaginary, Symbolic and Real as these registers are now widely known, respectively span the realms of space and visual images, language and meaning, and an absolute dimension, distanced by the others, which, for Lacan, the subject cannot directly approach or tolerate.[2] The emergence of the ideally integrated body is thus inseparably linked with the subject's projection of a coherent sphere of reality in which it can move with a degree of assured predictability.

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