The Cornered Object of Psychoanalysis: Las Meninas, Jacques Lacan and Henry James
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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.
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