Charismatic Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan Gives Public Lecture (1972)

The footage above is from an extremely rare – and unexpectedly entertaining – video of the philosopher and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901-1981), giving a lecture at The Catholic University of Louvain in 1972. The film is notable for a couple of reasons:

1. In France, Lacan’s rock star status owed much to his popular public seminars. The charismatic iconoclast had been giving free public lectures for decades, and those lectures were usually packed with students, colleagues, skeptics, young radicals … and fans. The video gives you an idea of what the fuss was all about. Even at 70, Lacan still owns the room, and he has the presence of a stage actor, complete with dramatic pauses, ironic self-reflection, and pitch-perfect storms of emotion (see minute 15:07)

2. At minute 21:37, a politically inspired heckler tries to ambush him. It’s a moment right out of a comedy show, if the comedy show were chic and grainy and edited by Jean-Luc Goddard. Note the grace with which Lacan neutralizes the poor guy, lights his cigar and then concludes the lecture, even though the fallout from their encounter is still stuck in his hair.

Lacan’s ideas have fallen a bit out of fashion in the past two decades, particularly in the U.S., where psychoanalysis has been nudged out of the spotlight by neuroscience and post-structuralism has lost ground to post-colonial studies. But Lacan still has his fans, notably the “Elvis of Philosophy,” Slavoj Zizek, who dominates YouTube the way his predecessor once did salons.

You can find Zizek’s book How to Read Lacan for free at the Lacan website, along with a treasure trove of videos dedicated to Zizek, Badiou and other Lacan-inspired thinkers. The book explaining how to read Zizek has not yet been written.

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Variety, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.


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  1. Yes says . . . | March 22, 2011 / 11:21 pm

    A great example of an intellectual impostor. A real lover of obscurity and lack of rigor.

  2. Samo Taksamosvoj says . . . | March 28, 2011 / 10:04 am

    The clip is on Youtube, too. There are more comments there, as well. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iL6rkBSHS4A

  3. Thymoticdrive says . . . | May 2, 2011 / 1:31 am

    What evinces the ‘lack of rigor’? How do you know it is not your own?

    What would seem to someone obscure must have something to do with what they are accustomed to and what they have studied, but if it is ‘truly’ obscure then might it be because the subject of human life is not so easily put down in the form of neat equations?

  4. Elaine Smith says . . . | October 7, 2011 / 2:29 am

    In defence of the courage of the heckler – he made a stand, and asked a question, don’t call him something “comic” – his passion is great and questioning should always be encouraged – no matter how grand apparently the speaker! This is the way of philosophy. All power to the HECKLER, then and now!!!

  5. trz says . . . | February 14, 2012 / 1:11 pm

    @Elaine Smith

    Being french speaking, and having origins in the Belgian town from which the heckler’s accent has its roots, I can only say it was hard to find a question in his blurbs. Passionate, I don’t know.. comic at most.
    It’s only now that I realize how my philosophy teacher of 15 years ago adopted the same “NOW I AM ACADEMICALLY SERIOUS” shouting tactics than Lacan.

  6. jkop says . . . | May 13, 2012 / 4:55 am

    @Thymoticdrive, rigor has little to do with equations, it simply reveals mistakes or fraud.

  7. Emio says . . . | May 14, 2012 / 1:48 am

    Psychoanalysis wasn’t “nudged out” by nueroscience, as if it were just some outdated model now obsolete because of a new “updated model” like nueroscience. Psychoanalysis was accused of being a pseudoscience because it’s theory was in general, unfalsifiable. Meaning even if it were true we couldn’t know because we couldn’t test it.
    Of course you can have your philosophy, but don’t expect psychologists to take it seriously, psychoanalysis is not empirically justified, that’s kind of why it’s “a bit out of fashion”, things that aren’t empirically justified tend to “fall out of fashion” in science.

  8. louis says . . . | September 22, 2012 / 4:14 pm

    Love, and the act of Love can not be understood fully until the outcome is favorable, or side’s with the person or people in whom it was meant to…

  9. Emil says . . . | April 17, 2013 / 9:02 am

    The “political heckler” who tries to ambush him was obviously staged and part of the lecture. This guy is seriously disgusting.

  10. wfs says . . . | March 9, 2014 / 1:41 pm

    Lacan says over and over again that psychoanalysis is not psychology, but of course you don’t know that because you’ve never read him.

  11. Moi says . . . | March 20, 2014 / 11:19 am

    I love the heckler. Much more than Lacan. Isn’t this Situationism?

    It gets less and less possible to depict the “real” because our own awareness of how we are all commodities has gone up so much. Failing to make your point persuasive to the crowd almost feels like a successful act of persuasion to me, because the crowd is so repulsively smug…

    I agree that Lacan’s question “what were you hoping to accomplish” is authoritarian. What would he think if I asked him what he hoped to accomplish? What an absurd question…

    The only mistake the heckler made was to say he wanted revolution. He doesn’t. He wants to live a life that isn’t a lie.

  12. Manojshah says . . . | April 14, 2014 / 10:56 pm

    The way film has been captured take us in person,thanx for putting up

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