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Psychoanalysis, Representation, Politics

The Letter, Issue 7, Summer 1996, Pages 97 - 109


Sean Homer

The definition of 'government' has been re-interpreted by the conference organisers to include issues of representation in general. I should like to stretch this interpretation a little further, if I may, to include questions of politics. Politics, that is, in its broadest sense, and not specifically cultural politics, in other words, the politics of representation, of identity and of subjectivity, or, more locally the politics of psychoanalysis. What I want to address, therefore, will encompass questions of cultural and social theory as well as issues specific to psychoanalytic studies. I am also aware mat to insist on such a distinction between, let us say, politics proper and cultural politics will be an anathema to many people here today and indeed it is not a distinction that I would myself usually wish to defend. But for the purposes of this presentation it is a distinction I will make and will hope to prise open in order to pose certain questions; firstly, what has become of the politics in the politics of representation? Secondly, what has psychoanalysis got to offer both political theory in general and cultural politics in particular? Is it simply the case, as the critic Elizabeth Bellamy has observed of Laclau and Mouffe's influential work Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, that one can remove the psychoanalytic terminology from the discourse of cultural politics with no discernible lose to the overall theory,[1] or, as I want to argue here, that there is a specific and irreducible dimension that psychoanalysis can add to current cultural and political debates? What I would like to do, therefore, is to reflect initially upon the historical trajectory of certain contemporary political and cultural discourses of impossibility before turning these arguments back upon themselves and posing the question of the possibility of a psychoanalytic political theory.

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