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.

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 (23)
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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.

  • Diane Trees-Clay - 2917 Camelot Lane says:

    Shan, as an Amer­i­can who has never–and will never–vote for Don­ald Trump, I must remind you that “Amer­i­cans” did not elect Don­ald Trump; it was the Founders’ mis­take, the Elec­toral Col­lege, that put him in office. Accord­ing to vote tal­lies of the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion (per The Asso­ci­at­ed Press & ABC News), [Hillary] Clin­ton amassed 65,844,610 votes across all 50 states and Wash­ing­ton D.C., 48.2 per­cent of all votes cast. Trump received 62,979,636 votes, 46.1 per­cent of all votes cast.

    Clin­ton had 2,864,974 votes more than Trump, the largest pop­u­lar vote mar­gin of any los­ing pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in U.S. his­to­ry, accord­ing to the AP.

    Trump won the pres­i­den­cy by clinch­ing 304 elec­toral votes, well over the min­i­mum 270 need­ed. Clin­ton won 227 elec­toral votes.

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