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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Comments (22)
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  • Yes says:

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

  • The clip is on Youtube, too. There are more comments there, as well. See

  • Thymoticdrive says:

    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?

  • Elaine Smith says:

    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!!!

  • trz says:

    @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.

  • jkop says:

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

  • Emio says:

    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.

  • louis says:

    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…

  • Emil says:

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

  • wfs says:

    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.

  • Moi says:

    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.

  • Manojshah says:

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

  • Matt says:

    Freud famously said “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

    And here Lacan proves that sometimes its more.

  • Taiyari says:

    Long Live Situationism!

  • mihaela says:

    tell me no u r joking…. i m laughing so must be. what do u know ab lacan to call him an impostor? have u done research on this subject?

  • Shan says:

    Can somebody who has actually studied Lacan write about him? The main article & most comments here have been written by people who obviously know nothing about psychoanalysis.

    No wonder Trump was elected by Americans… He does the exact same thing.

  • Homo Anthropolocus says:

    “Comic”, according to Lacan, does not negate or degrade the comedian, who is, in this case, the heckler. Lacan defines a joke, “[t]o grant priority to the signifier over the subject…” The heckler does precisely that. He injects himself into the discourse with grand signifiers. He spills water. He even aggressively flicks water at Lacan.
    (As an aside: what does spilling water signify? Water soaks. It does not destroy. Water cleanses. Water baptizes. Water precedes birth. It has so many meanings, but it is not truly revolutionary.)
    These water-works do not signify the heckler’s propositions, his subject. He uses his acts as a disruption within the organization of power. But, as long as he wishes simply to disruption, not even to negate a particular subject, he remains within the domain of the comic, privileging the signifier over his intended subject.

  • Casey Siller says:

    Interesting. So, the “problem” with the disruptor, [primarily,was his lack of purpose? I think it its human for Lacan to ask “What did you hope to accomplish?” It would have actually been better if he intended harm, or further disruption. Violence isn’t good, but at least it is purposeful.

  • Dostyk says:

    Erstaunlich, dass dies bis in die späten 90er und noch frühen 2000er noch ernsthaft in akademischen Kreisen diskutiert wurde. Danach wurde Lacancan und Derridada ganz schnell zum Gift für akademische Karrieren. Merke: Den größten Unsinn kannst Du nur immer dann behaupten, wenn Du Inhaber einer festen Stelle bist. Pathos und Redestil (die Selbstgefälligkeit der ersten drei Minuten) lassen wir hier mal unkommentiert . . . praeteritio, ich weiß . . . get a life.

  • CC says:

    Wow! Fantastic and captivating film! Every word carried energy and weight, I’m not sure if it can be fully conveyed through English subtitles. Wish I was alive in Paris in the 60s and 70s! He clearly had genuine experience to convey about the vast mysteries of “life” and “love”.

    Those who think he is an imposter, open up and access the full range of your mind, he is about as far away from an imposter as a thought-provoking thinker can be!

  • Valentina says:

    No digan que Lacan es filósofo, pro favor. No llega ni al nivel del concepto, menos llega al nivel de la Idea. Lacan no discute una sola idea filosófica en su obra. Sólo ama el psicoanálisis, no ama la verdad. Para ser filósofo hay que tener la nobleza y respetar la verdad, los argumentos, lo que es independientemente de los intereses personales. Lacan está lleno de intereses personales, hacer del psicoanálisis la nueva religión de occidente. No es una metáfora, lo dice en sus textos: Dios es inconsciente.

  • David Walker says:

    Noam Chomsky once called Jacques Lacan “a total charlatan, just posturing before the television cameras the way many Paris intellectuals do. Why this is influential I haven’t the slightest idea.”
    Chomsky had Lacan’s number. This lecture, for instance, seems a remarkable example of talk without much meaning, delivered with terrific élan and total commitment. Time and again, he touches on an idea and then flits away without saying anything much. It’s a nice example of what the philosopher Daniel Dennett has called “deepities”.
    Try listening to what he had to say and writing down a summary as you go. It’s an interesting experience.
    An example, at 13:54. “We cannot fail to observe that the thing which holds human beings together as well is something related to language. I call ‘discourse’ that something which within language fixes, crystallises and uses the resources of language – of course there are many other resources and they use this so that the social bond between beings functions.”
    Or in summary: people socialise by talking.

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