The Cornered Object of Psychoanalysis: Las Meninas, Jacques Lacan and Henry James
- 507 Downloads
Long recognised as a painting ‘about’ painting, Velázquez’s Las Meninas comes to Lacan’s aid as he explicates the object a in Seminar XIII, The Object of Psychoanalysis (1965–1966). The famous seventeenth century painting provides Lacan with a visual mapping of the ‘ghost story’ he discovers in the Cartesian cogito, insofar as it depicts the unravelling of the Cartesian representational project at the moment of its founding gesture. This article traces Lacan’s argument as he turns to art, linear perspective and topology to model how the object a persistently eludes the grasp of scientific knowledge. Following a discussion of distance-point perspective in Renaissance Italy and the role this innovation played in enabling distorted depictions of objects in space, I propose Henry James’s ghost story, “The Jolly Corner,” as the sequel to Lacan’s reading of Las Meninas. In James’s tale, we obtain a narrative account of what the figures in Velasquez’s painting might ‘see’ as they return our gaze towards us.
KeywordsJacques Lacan Descartes Henry James Distance-point perspective Object a Anamorphosis
I am grateful to my fellow Circle for Lacanian Ideology Critique members Thomas Brockelman, Dominiek Hoens, Bruno Besana, Emiliano Battista and Leon Linotte for their insights when we read Seminar XIII at the Jan van Eyck Academie from 2007 to 2008. Much of what I present here draws on those sessions (any errors in this interpretation of Lacan are of course my own). Figures. 1 and 2 are reprinted courtesy of the Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, from the Internet Archive. Figure 3 is reprinted under Creative Commons license NC-ND 2.0 France, courtesy of Bibiliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes. Figure 4 is reprinted with permission from Écrits: the First Complete Edition in English by Jacques Lacan. Translated by Bruce Fink in collaboration with Héloïse Fink and Russell Grigg. Copyright © 1996, 1970, 1971, 1999 by Editions du Deuil. English translation copyright © 2006, 2002 by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
- Bouasse, Henri. 1917. Optique géométrique élémentaire: focométrie, optométrie. Paris: Delagrave. Available at http://www.archive.org/details/optiquegomtriqu00bouagoog.
- Damisch, Hubert. 1994. The origin of perspective. Trans. John Goodman. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Descartes, René. 1954. Philosophical writings. Ed. and Trans. Elizabeth Anscombe and Peter Thomas Geach. Introduction by Alexandre Koyré. Middlesex: Nelson and Sons.Google Scholar
- Fink, Bruce. 2002. Knowledge and science: Fantasies of the whole. In Lacan and science, ed. Jason Glynos, and Yannis Stavrakakis. New York: Karnac.Google Scholar
- James, Henry. 1999. Collected short stories, vol. 2. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
- Jay, Martin. 1993. Downcast eyes: The denigration of vision in twentieth-century French thought. Berkeley, LA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Lacan, Jacques. 1966. Unpublished transcript: Le Séminaire de Jacques Lacan, Livre XIII, 1965–1966, “L’objet de la psychanalyse.” Available at http://gaogoa.free.fr/SeminaireS.htm. English translation is from an unpublished text by Cormac Gallagher. Available at http://www.lacaninireland.com/web/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/13-The-Object-of-Psychoanalysis1.pdf.
- Lacan, Jacques. 1967. Unpublished transcript. Le Séminaire de Jacques Lacan, Livre XIV, 1966–1967, La logique du fantasme. Available at http://gaogoa.free.fr/SeminaireS.htm. English translation is from an unpublished text by Cormac Gallagher. Available at http://www.lacaninireland.com/web/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/14-Logic-of-Phantasy-Complete.pdf.
- Lacan, Jacques. 1981. The four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
- Lacan, Jacques. 2006. Écrits. The first complete edition in English. Trans. Bruce Fink in collaboration with Heloise Fink and Russell Grigg. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
- Massey, Lyle. 2007. Picturing space, displacing bodies: Anamorphosis in early modern theories of perspective. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
- Panofsky, Erwin. 1991. Perspective as Symbolic Form. Trans. Christopher S. Wood. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
- Umberger, Emily. 1995. Velázquez and Naturalism II: Interpreting Las Meninas. RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 28: 94–117.Google Scholar