the role of lacan's theories in boundary language

The French psychologist Jacques Lacan astounded audiences who came to his lectures during the 1950s with lectures that some in the audience were not sure were entirely in French. An official and willing outcast of the Congrés des psychanalystes de langue française, Lacan called into question many of the principles that had made the writings of Freud the basis of a world-wide professional practice. His formulations of classical Freudian concepts as the ego, desire, the Oedipus complex were re-mixed with ideas from philosophy, linguistics, political theory, history, and other fields. His two major works in English, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis and Ecrits: A Selection, are difficult to read but tantalizing, especially for artists, architects, writers, and critical theorists who see in Lacan a return to the complexities that have always characterized the arts and artists, cultures and cultural practices. Mirrors, anamorphosis, screens, and illusions abound. The primary representative of the subject in the public world is, first and foremost, a confirmed liar. In short, Lacan's theory of mind is a theory of art as well.

Why is this? Profoundly, Lacan treats matters where drawing boundaries and making distinctions is critical and complex. The world we might draw on a sheet of paper is 'transitive' — spaces separated on one side or the other remain there, unconnected except by their common border. In truth, Lacan demonstrated through his analogies of mirrors, knots, and puzzles, the spaces and times disconnected symbolically return in the experience of the 'Real', through passageways that resemble the turn-of-the-century mystical concept of the fourth dimension. Yet, Lacan uses nary a mystical idea, as Jung had done, to suggest a synchronicity of archetypes stretching across centuries and cultures. Universality, Lacan stresses, comes from the fact that we all have mothers and fathers, and a sequence of stages that must be undergone to establish our place in a civil/social world. Because these stages involve the perceptual world and its meaning, Lacan's psychology is intrinsically a groundwork for any approach to architecture, art, and place.

Boundary language interprets Lacan through the writings of Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian polymath who studied with Jacques-Alain Miller, Lacan's son-in-law and intellectual heir. Zizek takes Lacan, Freud, and others (including Hegel and Schelling) to popular culture. Using examples from films and popular fiction, Zizek finds clear articulation of the mind's topological twists in the jokes, thrills, and tears of fiction. Two of his favorites, Alfred Hitchcock and Kzrysztof Kieslowski, get book-length treatment, and Michel Chion's film-based theories of sound (voix acousmatique) are featured throughout. Zizek's ability to range across disciplines, cultures, ideologies, and other lines drawn since the Enlightenment to separate the projects of the intellect run parallel to boundary language's aspiration to find a single topology to cover a wide array of phenomena. This topology resembles Lacan's own 'triangle' of SYMBOLIC-REALITY-REAL. This triangle distinguishes these fundamental functions, but it also establishes a system of circulation that 'is', more or less, the human being. Like the intransitive topology that characterizes the joke, the paradox, and idiological domination, this 'flow-chart' operates in a complex multidimensional space that defies Cartesian divisibility.

Zizek is the (unsolicited) 'philosopher of boundary language' because he is able to show Lacan's effectiveness in examples of popular culture. In often surprising ways, the topics of anamorphosis, acousmatics, knots, and repetitions lace through Zizek's books in ways that make all of them, even those overtly 'about' theology, relevant to any discussion of boundary behavior.


from the introductory page on Giambattista Vico . . .

Boundary language is philosophically based on two primary works, the critical philosophy of Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) and the critical psychology of Jacques Lacan (1901-1981). Boundary language makes clear that there are a number of significant affinities connecting these two historically and culturally distant thinkers; in fact, boundary language makes it clear for the first time that a case should be made that they are, in the world of intellectual fiction-writing, 'one and the same person'. Vico's radical materialization of cultural development depends on a division between the 'symbolic' (what people think they are thinking) and the Real (the surplus to this conscious view that is suture, in significant ways) into the symbolic system and the subject's cycles of desire/fear. This is a Lacanian characterization, but, equally, Vichian could be used easily to paraphrase Lacan's views and accomplishments. Vico has a lot to say, after all, about 'sliding signifiers', the time-space 'between the two deaths', and the role of ingenium (wit) in 'quilting' signifiers together in new ways (the hapax phenomenon).

In boundary language terms, Vico and Lacan are twins, separated at some remote birth in antiquity and reincarnated in various personalities throughout history. Lacan's 'interpreter', Slavoj Zizek, is remarkably unaware of Vico's genetic connections — but this is all for the better. There are no 'academic stakes' in connecting Vico with Lacan. The scholars who follow them, respectively, have nothing to gain by finding common ground. Only boundary language, where topology equals knowledge, does the middle ground become the terrain for the foundation of a new city, whose population is destined to remain under a thousand.