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Lacan and the Human Sciences.

Lacan and the Human Sciences. University of Nebraska Press, 1991. 191 pp. $27.50--The articles assembled here demonstrate the impact of Lacan's thought on epistemology, anthropology, feminist studies, and literature. The focus of Leupin's introduction and of the first chapters by Jean-Claude Milner and Francois Regnault is Lacan's linking of the social sciences and science. Leupin writes that while Freud drew upon "medicine and biology to ensure . . .scientific consistency" (Milner lists physics and thermodynamics [p. 33]), in Lacan these are replaced by mathematics and topology (p. 2). Lacan argued that the social or human sciences should be renamed the "conjectural sciences"--that they are susceptible of an exact calculation in terms of probability.

Ragland-Sullivan's otherwise impressive article on the materiality of language includes passages linking Freud to a "simplistic biology" (p. 66) or a "biological determinism" (p. 69). She writes, "Freud's literalist definition of judgment as the quest for an identity of perception between internal representation of the satisfactory object and perception of a similar external object leaves us, finally, in the field of biological phenomenology" (p. 67). In addition to the fact that the meaning of "literalist" is unclear, the identity of perception and the identity of thought are conflated in this comment. The identity of perception in Freud is wish-fulfillment in the form of a fragmentary hallucination of a prior experience of satisfaction. The quest of judgment is for an identity of thought. While Freud's emphasis is on the means of refinding the object, and Lacan's on the permanent mark of lack the subject carries into that refinding, neither the identity of perception nor the identity of thought leaves us "in the field of biological phenomenology." No one more than Lacan has emphasized the difference between biological need and psychic wish. Read retrospectively, the identity of perception--original wish fulfillment--is, first of all, a negation, a denial of need, a denial of absence of the object, a denial of want of being, and the first coming into play of the quest for the objet a--hardly biological phenomena.

Jean-Joseph Goux, in asking, "Why the letter? Why does Lacan constantly privilege the letter at the expense of the image?" (p. 109), pursues the question largely motivating this reviewer's Arguing with Lacan (1991). In accord with his title, "Lacan Iconoclast," Goux sees Lacan identified with Moses in banishing idolatry, the imaginary. The law of the father demands sacrifice of "the imaginary, and with it, the desire for the mother" (p. 113). Might not this be called, Goux asks, "the foreclosure of the mother and perhaps the feminine?" (p. 118).

Jane Gallop, in "Juliet Mitchell and the Human Sciences," portrays the threats that Mitchell resists. Mitchell, allying herself with Marx (Althusser's Marx), Freud (selected quotations from Freud), and Lacan (a particular interpretation of Lacan), valorizes history and humanization against the biological. "At stake here," Gallop writes, "is the way women have been relegated to the outskirts of culture, kept close to nature, in biology, trapped in unwitting reproduction" (p. 136). But Gallop resists Mitchell's resistance to biology. In her view it is the ideological use of biologism that oppresses women, rather than biology itself or nature itself.

Dennis Porter, responsible for the translation of Lacan's seminars, here introduces Lacan and psychoanalysis as a third term in Paul de Man's difference with Walter Benjamin's "Task of the Translator." The article, in Derridean terms, is on "the necessary and impossible task of translation, its necessity as impossibility" (p. 163). Denis Hollier, in the concluding chapter, approaches the topic of feminine jouissance in its relationship to the unknown, to the Other, by way of Emile Zola's 1894 novel, Lourdes.

Notwithstanding flaws such as Leupin's effort to approximate superego, ego, and id with Lacan's symbolic, imaginary, and real (p. 11), and Ragland-Sullivan account of the identity of perception (p. 67), each contribution in this volume is both highly readable and informative. To borrow from Benjamin, de Man, Porter, and Derrida, however, the task of the reviewer is impossible even in reviewing a single author, let alone in an attempt to enter a dialogue with eight.--Joseph H. Smith, Bethesda, Md.
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Author:Smith, Joseph H.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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