PHIL 311: Postmodern Critical Theory

Phenomenology, Post-Structuralism, and Psychoanalysis: Sexual Division as Body, Language, Desire, and Political Agency

Instructor: Chris Latiolais

Course Description:

This course examines the themes of sexual division, feminist politics, and the socio-linguistic geography of the desiring body in contemporary Postmodern Critical Theory; more specifically, the psychoanalytic turn in poststructuralist conceptions of social power. The central issue of the course is a novel theory of sexual division worked out by contemporary post-structural critical theorists who reject both (biological or teleological) essentialism and cultural constructivism as capturing sexual difference, which, they argue, requires psychoanalytic theorizing. Theorists such as Jean Laplanche, Julia Kristeva, Jean Copjec, Ellie Ragland, Slavoj Zizek, and Alenka Zupancic locate sexual division in our ontological condition as speaking beings (parle-e-etre) who desire, enjoy, and agonistically inhabit the political arena. Such theorists offer a novel theoretical approach to feminism as located at the intersection of issues of embodiment, desire, language, geography, and political power, an intersection missed by the current fixation on the sex/gender, nature/culture duality. The core of their account of sexual division is that the acquisition of language is the embodiment of language, the sexualized incarnation of speech as such, casting political struggle as an ontological antagonism located, not only at the level of semantic content, but also and more fundamentally at the level how the social-symbolic discursive field shows up and gets talked out: i.e. the differential sexual logic of the signifying process. In short, sexual difference is a difference in how language becomes embodied, where differential modes of embodiment stage politics as an ontological antagonism of radical difference, and correspondingly, language becomes sexualized. Such critical theorists argue politics conceived exclusively in terms of culturally constructed identities, the current orthodoxy of identity politics, actually desexualizes and therein depoliticizes feminism. Alenka Zupancic’s question, “What is Sex?” locates the core issue of the course.

From a psychoanalytic perspective, traditional philosophy seems to be constitutively defined by repressing the question of sex and hence sexual difference. As the term “subject” or “that which lies under” [Greek Hypokeimenon] implies, philosophers seek a universal, asexual, neutral, or neuter substrate underling sexual difference, transforming sexual difference into differential specifications (binary properties, ternary properties, etc.) of a neutered genus, whether dualistic or multiple. As a clinical practice, psychoanalysis is constitutively defined as confronting the question of sex, sexual difference, desire, and enjoyment. Clinical experience consistently demonstrates analysands exist in ways that cannot be accounted for in either biological-causal or cultural-constructive terms: erotic desire, sexual difference, and bodily enjoyment (Jouissance) work as embodied articulation, where “body” exists as sexually differentiated, but not, and this is the key point, in terms of causal determinants or cultural constructs or some combination of the two. Of course, the body as lived erotically can be studied from biological and cultural perspectives, but clinical experience reveals desire and enjoyment do not function as (forward) causal determination or (backward) cultural construction. The gist of a broadly Lacanian approach to sexual difference rests upon a conception of embodied articulation (speech [parle]) structurally divided as different ways or positions within the signifying process itself. As Julia Kristeva puts it, “the only universal is the signifying process,” a process which positions subjects precisely as sexually divided, making the signifying process divided from within. Simply put, the signifying process is neither a neutral “one” nor a cultural “two or multiple”; instead, it’s a structural divide establishing the signifying process as an agonistic field, a field within which there is neither stable sexual identity nor definite sexual relation. As a result, biological discriminations and cultural significations can be experienced from variable sexed positions: e.g. biologically “male” or cultural “masculine” can be lived as a feminine position and visa versa. The identification of this structural level of analyzing sexually divided embodied articulation may prove fruitful for re-conceiving feminism as a form of political agency, particularly given the deficits of causal determinism and cultural constructivism. Another potential yield of this structural analysis is in identifying and addressing bodily-based and behavior-sustained symptoms compromising erotic agency. The core of this approach to feminism is a novel ontology of speaking subjectivity grounded in a philosophy of language explains rather than represses sexual division, restoring feminism as a universal emancipatory politics against the unceasing pluralization of culturally constructed identities.

To test this thesis, we examine Copjec’s, Ragland’s, and Zupancic’s (sympathetic) criticism of Judith Butler’s performative model of gendered identities, itself a powerful and provocative deconstruction of essentialism. We also probe the novel concept of embodiment as it emerges within this psychoanalytic context against Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of the flesh, along one dimension, and contemporary medical accounts of body dismorphia, along another. We also probe the basic philosophy of language at work in this psychoanalytic context, asking whether the concept of “the real” as what defines sexual division illicitly downplays the cooperative discursive potential of democratic politics. The question here is whether poststructuralist semantics/pragmatics overdramatizes basic features of language, such as reference, illocutionary force, and the indexical nature of (natural and social) kind terms. Of particular concern here is the psychoanalytically radicalized conception of political action as a wholesale, global overthrow of the reigning “symbolic domain”: if political action calls for a radical passage of the act somehow comprehensively destroys existing discursive (i.e. semantic) coordinates, then critical social theory is no longer committed to grounding political action within existing social reality, an existing instance of agency. A key concern of the course is to develop a more nuanced account of the sexually differentiated embodiment of discursivity preserving the central commitment of critical social theory: namely, locating political agency in an existing social instance, in this case, language.

Extended Course Description:

The title “Postmodern” is characteristically associated with late twentieth century French figures who execute the Linguistic Turn in philosophy by rejecting structuralism (Levi-Strauss, Saussure, Jakobson), phenomenology (Husserl, Merleau-Ponty), and hermeneutics (Heidegger, Gadamer) hence the related term “post-structuralism.” The usual suspects in such a theory course are Foucault’s archaeology and genealogy, Derrida’s deconstructionism, Deleuze’s materialism, Althusser’s politics of interpellation, Lyotard’s ludic linguistics, Bourdieu’s praxeology, etc. Moreover, such post-structuralist figures are associated with the thesis of the “end of the subject” not only the “death” of the rational autonomous subject of Enlightenment humanism but also the demise of the subject that speaks language rather than being spoken by it. It’s odd then, to say the least, to find two mid-century figures, the psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan and phenomenologist, Maurice Merleau-Ponty on the roster of such a course, particularly given their commitment to retaining a notion of the subject after the structuralist revolution. I owe students an explanation.

Seven Observations Informing the Instructor’s Choice of Figures:

  • First and foremost, postmodernism is rightly taken as post-structuralism and, hence, a distinctive way of executing the Linguistic Turn in philosophy. The linguistic turn establishes the instinctive priority of language vis-à-vis subjectivity, body, consciousness, and self-expression.
  • Second, Lacanian psychoanalytic theory set the stage for how figures such as Foucault, Derrida, Althusser, Deleuze, Lyotard, and Bourdieu theorize language, subjectivity, and sociality, in particular their interrelated (1) deep suspicions regarding the concept of linguistic meaning on offer from phenomenology and hermeneutics, (2) deep suspicions regarding the associated concept of subjectivity to whom such meaning is available, and (3) deep suspicions regarding the social practices and institutions that sustain the coordinates of social power.
  • Third, the notorious “death-of-the-subject” or “death-of-the-author” thesis characterizes this phase of French post-structuralism, which rejects both the phenomenological concept of the meaning-giving subject (sinngebendes Subjekt) and the hermeneutic concept of sense- understanding (sinnverstehendes Subjekt) subject, is driven by Lacan’s devastating attack upon “imaginary identifications”: i.e. identifications constitutive the ego (moi) as the embodied locus of perception, desire, and action. Lacan launches a devastating attack upon such imaginary ego identifications: the conscious ego arises within the delusional intuitive (“imaginary”) availability of perceptual and semantic meaning (Sinn), this ego being the humanistic, Enlightenment, rational ego capable of (univocal) speech and (determinate) action. This unrelenting assault upon the humanistic ego: i.e. the death of the subject thesis, forms the core of the power analytics (differentially) generated by all of the major post-structuralist theorists. Lacan’s claims regarding the fundamental misrecognition built into the imaginary stage of development resulted, however, in a plethora of vague, anemic, and diluted uses of the term “imaginary” in regard to the identities of individuals and groups, with the emerging glaring deficit: namely, a failure to understand the contrast between ego (moi) and subjectivity (Je) that forms of the core (middle & late) Lacan’s account of the symbolic stage. In celebrating the “death of the subject”: i.e. the imaginary ego, poststructuralists failed to offer any account whatsoever of how humans are installed in language, a deficit Butler adamantly acknowledges in her later works beginning with the Psychic Life of Power in her contrast between “subjectivity” and “self.” The essential point here is contemporary postmodern philosophy is largely driven by the glaring need to offer some conception of (sexually divided) speaking beings moving beyond essentialism and social constructivism, the former an illicit reification of subjectivity, the latter an equally illicit constructivist vaporization of subjectivity.
  • Fourth, the contemporary French intellectual scene is currently grappling with the provocative psychoanalytic appropriation of the post-structuralist figures by the so-called “Slovenian School” of philosophy and Lacanian psychoanalysis maintained by Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Alenka Zupancic, Mladon Dolar, inter alia. What’s fascinating about this resurgence of Lacan on the contemporary scene is its commitment to developing a psychoanalytic notion of the subject in the context of a dialectical materialism, one caught up in, but by no means reduced to, the priority of language or the “symbolic.” The “Slovenian School” connects up directly with U.S. figures feminists such as Jean Copjec, Ellie Ragland, Judith Butler, and Jane Gallop, etc.
  • Fifth, such theorists proffer a structural conception of the speaking subject (parle etre) as sexually divided by its positioning within language (the symbolic domain), a concept of sexual division which moves beyond the sex/sexuality, nature/culture, biology/gender distinction broadly defines gender studies programs.
  • Sixth, this French psychoanalytic execution of the Linguistic Turn provides a postmodern alternative to the linguistic turn in German critical social theory.
  • Finally, the examination of the Merleau-Ponty/Lacan debate in connection with Zizek’s, Copjec’s, Ragland’s, and Zupancic’s works allows us to assess the merits of postmodern critical theory as a distinctive type of execution of the Linguistic Turn in philosophy: namely, to sexual division as a way of understanding language as such, locating sexual division in neither nature nor culture, neither “given biology” nor “constructed cultural identity.” In short, the course is devoted to understanding sexual division as a feminist politics of the body and language.

These seven assumptions sketch out my historical approach to contemporary postmodern philosophy.

The Central Themes of the Course.

The course title itemizes four different themes: body, language, desire, and sexual division. I want to drastically oversimplify the interconnections of such themes by the following comprehensive claim which moves to the core of the course: namely, subjectivity. Our desires are embodied identifications within the symbolic that divide into two different structures of sexual enjoyment (jouissance), and it’s precisely these different structures of jouissance, which are neither (universal) biologically determinations nor (particular) cultural constructions, that accounts for how humans attach themselves to social ideologies. The upshot of such a view of modern subjectivity is ideological political affiliations are largely connotative (erotic), not cognitive (rational), ways in which the subject positions itself in the social-political domain. Critical social theory proper began in the early twentieth century as an analysis of the fascist takeover of the worker’s movement in the Twenties and Thirties, and postmodern critical social theory keeps faith with this tradition by devoting itself to diagnosing contemporary group identifications with exclusionary political movements such as fascism and contemporary “’alt-right’ conservatism.” The central point here is postmodern critical social theory offers us a radical understanding of subjectivity after the linguistic turn, one focusing upon, not only rational dimensions of human agency, but the erotic dimensions as well, forcing us to temper our insistence upon the human capacity to engage in communicative rationality, the central representative of which is Jürgen Habermas.

Inheriting seventeenth century Cartesian dualism, we characteristically keep the body, a physical, material, causally determined object and language, social, psychological, cultural, and cognitive capacity at arm’s length, muting matter, disembodying language, and accepting an odd, ill-fitting, two-tiered assembly: nature and culture. A core theses of the postmodern critical theory we study is, first, the body is “linguistically articulated” and, second, language is “materialized power,” interlacing mundane bodily movement with linguistic articulation so tightly the one is inextricable from the other. Inheriting 19th-century Romanticism, we characteristically keep desire, personal, secret, individual, and erotic; and ideology, impersonal, public, general, and political; at arm’s length, domiciling desire in the interior space of the yearning heart (romanticism), domesticating ideology in the exterior space of public places (sociological objectivism), and therein accepting an odd two-place assembly of private and public. Another core thesis of postmodern critical theory is public power colonizes personal desire and erotic strivings are deputies of administrative authority. To oversimplify drastically, postmodern critical theory is largely defined as a commitment to conceptualizing social power in terms of these four conceptually interwoven concepts: body, language, desire, and ideology. We will address these four themes by associating them with historically staggered schools of thought: Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology (body & desire), Lacan’s and Laplanche’s psychoanalysis (language & desire), the feminist reinterpretation of psychoanalysis and sexual division, and Zizek/Zupancic’s dialectial materialism (ideology). The course renegotiates the standard interpretation of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of the body as superseded and remaindered by Lacan’s structuralist psychoanalysis of desire. Against this view, I will argue that the later works of both theorists offer a remarkable point of substantial convergence. This convergence point is in fact the account of sexual division.

Accordingly, we will explore the famous rift in twentieth century French philosophy between Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who developed a phenomenology of human embodiment, and Jacques Lacan, who developed a linguistically oriented psychoanalytic account of desire and the unconscious. For both thinkers, the locus of human subjectivity is embodied, interactive, discursive agency. Both developed Post-Freudian accounts of human embodiment, recognitive sociality, and desire, and both believed they captured the best insights of the others. Nevertheless, Merleau-Ponty worried Lacan’s focus upon the linguistic structuration of human subjectivity abstracted from human embodiment, while Lacan worried Merleau-Ponty did not fully understand how language is constitutive of human subjectivity. It’s only in the works of Laplanche, Copjec, Ragland, Zizek, and Zupancic one sees how the philosophy of embodied perception, Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, and the psychoanalysis of linguistic intersubjectivity, Lacan’s neo-structuralism, connect up. Contemporary feminist psychoanalysis provides us with the conceptual resources for understanding the terms of their debate. Emphasizing the three fundamental “registers” or dimensions of human subjectivity, imaginary, symbolic, and real, such theorists allow us appreciate how Merleau-Ponty develops a theory of language (symbolic) within a theory of perception (imaginary/real), while Lacan develops a theory of perception (imaginary/real) out of a neo-structuralist theory of language (symbolic).

In The Id and the Ego, Freud famously claims “The body itself, and above all its surface, is a place from which both external and internal perceptions may spring. It is seen in the same way as any other object, but to the touch it yields two kinds of sensation, one of which equivalent to an internal perception . . . the ego is first and foremost a body-ego. It is not merely a surface entity, but is itself the projection of surface” (GS, 215). Much of the course is devoted to understanding the dual claims, first, self and body are inextricably intertwined and, second, self and language are inextricably interwoven. Freud emphasizes the porosity of the bodily ego, its being a surface through which “inside” and “outside” are intimately cross-circuited, and this theme of cross-circuiting in retained in Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of embodied perception and Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory of embodied language. It’s difficult to overestimate how important the theme of embodiment is for contemporary postmodern philosophy, which has gradually learned to temper its pronouncements about the linguistic construction of reality, the body included, by ever more concertedly exploring how language is embodied or, equivalently, how the body is articulated (symbolic) and driven (real). In this regard, the famous linguistic turn in twentieth century philosophy is rediscovering the theme of the body, which cannot be theoretically evaporated into an “effect,” “construction,” or “formation” of cultural-linguistic constructions.

Another persistent and guiding theme of the course is human desire. In both phenomenology and neo-structuralist psychoanalysis, desire is not a particular psychological state or attitude of the individual, nor is it either biologically determined or cultural constructed. Instead, it’s the constitutive condition of human co-existence. Both Merleau-Ponty and Lacan are thoroughly steeped in Heidegger’s hermeneutic analysis of being-in-the-world, his Daseinanalytik, which analyzes human existence as an openness upon, aperture to, or bond with the world. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of embodiment and Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory of pleasure (jouissance) presuppose basic features of Heidegger’s analysis of human existence. Heidegger’s defining contribution to philosophy is his famous thesis of the ontological difference; i.e. the difference between beings (Seiende) and being (Sein), as an answer the famous question of being: why is there being and not rather nothing? The question must be heard as asking, why do beings show, reveal, or present themselves to other beings: why is there presence rather than nothing? Heidegger’s preliminary answer is there is presence, i.e. beings showing themselves, only because certain beings have a unique type of presence: namely, existence or, as the etymology suggests, a being that stands out as open to such presence. In short, there is presence because certain beings exist: no presence without existence. 1) Heidegger advances this thesis against both Husserlian phenomenology and Kantian transcendental idealism, reminding both the stark opposition between the empirical, i.e. innerworldly beings, and transcendental, i.e. being or “understanding of being,” neglects this question of what type of being sustains being (the understanding of being) In short, what type of worldly entity houses such an understanding of being or, equivalently, what is being to whom other beings show themselves? Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein must be seen a “detranscendentalization” of idealism and phenomenology nevertheless maintains the central insight of Kant’s famous “Copernican Turn” in philosophy: namely, the discovery meaning, understanding, or intelligibility is a precondition for worldly entities’ showing, revealing, or presenting themselves. Heidegger maintains humans are both, and at once, a type of worldly being (Seiende) and an understanding of world. This is the famous thesis of the priority of meaning or sense: Sinnapriori.

The later Heidegger famously shifts the interdependence of presence (Sein) and existence (Dasein), underscoring the priority of presence as language (Sprache) as housing the understanding of being, the Sinnapriori, shifting Dasein to a subordinate role as receiving, preserving, and protecting language as the “house of (the understanding of) being.” Rather dramatically, Heidegger criticizes his early work as still caught up in the philosophy of subjectivity characteristic of western philosophy from Plato to Descartes and Kant. This critique of the subject in light of the priority of language defines twentieth century European-Continental philosophy, which links the linguistic turn in philosophy to the thesis of the “death of the subject.” The essential thrust of French post-structuralist philosophy is precisely this thesis the subject is an outcome, effect, product, or construct of language. The thinkers we examine in this course criticize this wholesale elimination of the subject, providing, instead, a subtle account of how subjectivity is caught up in, but not evaporated by, the apriori of linguistic meaning. More precisely still, they provide a subtle account of subjectivity as desiring, embodied, speaking, and sexualized within the context of linguistic turn. Accepting the priority of language does not automatically lead to elimination of the subject; instead, it leads to probing questions about the ontology of speaking being (parle etre).

For Heidegger, infants become human by taking over shared, anonymous, typified ways of handling or managing situations. Human life consists in active, practically oriented, embodied, and caring engagements with the world, where such practices function to “disclose” the world from quite specific, involved, articulated viewpoints. Both Merleau-Ponty and Lacan take up Heidegger’s analysis of thrownness, Geworfenheit, in their early accounts of perception, which Lacan called the “mirror stage” and Merleau-Ponty called “the body image.” At this stage of their work, they share the basic idea humans grasp or identify themselves environmentally and intercorporeally in perceptually available, practically aligned, and erotically attuned perceptual gestalts that “reflect” or “mirror” one’s “ego” (moi) or sense of self. At this stage in their works, both develop conceptions of the unconscious or “unthought” which is foreclosed by this perceptual-pragmatic structure of the engaged, socially attuned self. In their later works, both develop conceptions of language acquisition, Merleau-Ponty in The Visible and the Invisible and Lacan in his famous later seminars, and both continued to think of human desire and the unconscious as linguistically structured. We will explore the extent to which their early and later accounts of human desire are much more compatible than either presumed of the other.

A central issue inextricably interwoven with all four themes of the course, body, language, desire, and ideology, is sexual division. Contemporary debates about gender tend to assume a biology/culture duality: sex is a biological category, while sexuality is a cultural category. Sexuality, whether heterosexual, queer, lesbian, transgendered, etc., lies on the cultural side of the equation: that is, as a culturally inscripted and socially performed interpretation of desire. Sex, in contrast, is considered to be a sharp biological category focused on the physiological formation of genitalia. Refinements of this standard nature/nature duality come in two forms. First, biology does not at all work with a static and sharp dichotomy between two sexes, male and female, but, instead, with a complex and variably marked continuum hinging on chromosomal and in utero chemical and endocrinological variables in the maturation of the fetus. Second, cultural interpretations and social practices are not elective or wholly arbitrary, that is, a matter of conscious choice because such cultural contents and social rituals define the formation of subjectivity as such. Despite such refinements, Lacan locates sexual division at neither the biological nor the cultural level of analysis.

Lacan insists that this nature/nurture duality misses the phenomenon of sexual division, which is a structural difference brought about by the human acquisition of language, where the assumption of language lies between species-specific biology differences, at one extreme, and the apparently open-ended and variable cultural contents and social practices, on the other. In short, for Lacan, the infant assumes sexual difference, not as a matter of either biological determination or specific cultural indoctrination, but instead as a matter of a differential placement in, and relation to, language. The structural differentiation between masculine and feminine subject positions postdates biology, because it is now symbolically mediated, and predates the specific form of enculturation which plays out sexual difference in the particular registers of a specific socio-cultural milieu. For Lacan, sexual difference consists in opposing ways in which human beings are oriented within language as such different ways in which humans assume and embody one’s subjectivity as a speaking being. Moreover, for Lacan, sexual difference introduces a constitutive tension, an inbuilt antagonism, within the lives of speaking beings (parle’etre), and this constitutive agon of linguistically mediated interaction has become an important dimension of the distinctive form of ideology critique practiced by such postmodernists as Foucault, Derrida, Althusser, Bourdieu, Deleuze, Kristeva, and others. A good deal of postmodern critical theory emphasizes, along with Lacan, the naiveté of traditional Western philosophy, which seems to presuppose a gender-neutral conceptualization of human subjectivity.

Throughout the course, films will be shown alongside texts as aesthetic companions. Students will be encouraged to use the films in their papers. Moreover, students will be encouraged to individualize a final research paper tailored to their particular interests.

Required Texts Students Must Purchase:

  • Fink, Bruce: The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1995.
  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Ed. Thomas Baldwin: Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Basic Writings. London & New York: Routledge, 2004.
  • Zupancic, Alenka: What is Sex? Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2017.

Required Texts Posted on Moodle (No Need to Purchase):

  • Keltner, Stacy K., Kristeva: Thresholds. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity Press, 2011.
    • Introduction [Handout]
    • “Kristeva’s Theory of Meaning and Subjectivity” [Handout]
    • “Kristeva’s Psychoanalytic – Abjection, Love, and Loss” [Handout]
  • Vanier, Alain. Lacan. New York, NY: Other Press, 2000.
    • “The Imaginary” [Handout]
  • Laplanche, Jean: Essays in Otherness. London, England: Routledge Press, 1999.
  • Fink, Bruce.
    • The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1995.
    • “Reading ‘The Subversion of the Subject’,” from Lacan to the Letter: Reading Écrits Closely [handout]
  • Ragland, Ellie: The Logic of Sexuation: From Aristotle to Lacan. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004.
    • “’On the Significance of the Phallus’ (1958) According to Lacan”
  • Zizek, Slavoj: Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. London: Verso 2012.
    • “Objects, Objects, Everywhere” [Handout]

Background Texts:


  • Eagle, Morris. From Classical to Contemporary Psychoanalysis: A Critique and Integration. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2011.
  • Eagle, Morris. Recent Developments in Psychoanalysis: A Critique Evaluation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1984.
  • Lacan, Jacques Ecrits:
  • Fink, Bruce, et. al eds. Reading Seminar XI: Lacan’s Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 1996.
  • Fink, Bruce, et. al eds. Reading Seminars I and II: Lacan’s Return to Freud. Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 1996.
  • Fink, Bruce. A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and Technique. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997.
  • Fink, Bruce. Lacan to the Letter: Reading Écrits Closely. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.
  • Fink, Bruce. Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique: A Lacanian Approach. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007.
  • De Kesel, Marc. Eros and Ethics: Reading Jacques Lacan’s Seminar VII. Albany, NY: State University Press of New York Press, 2009.
  • Ragland, Ellie. The Logic of Sexuation: From Aristotle to Lacan. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004.
  • Ragland, Ellie. Essays on the Pleasures of Death: From Freud to Lacan. New York, NY: Routledge, 1995.

Slavoj Zizek:

  • The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso 1989.
  • Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan But were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock.
  • London: Verso 1992.Zizek, Slavoj. Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. (Cambridge Massachusetts: An October Book, The MIT Press, 2002).
  • Enjoy Your Symptom. London, England: Routledge 1992.
  • The Sublime Object of Ideology. Durham: Duke UniveDrsity Press, 1993.
  • The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on Schelling and Related Matters. London: Verso 1996.Zizek, Slavoj. The Plague of Fantasies. London: Verso 1997.
  • The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology. London: Verso 1999.
  • Contingency, Hegemony, and Universality. London: Verso 2000.
  • The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity. Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2003.
  • Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences. (London, England: Routledge 2004).
  • Interrogating the Real. London, England: Continuum 2005.
  • The Parallax View. Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2006.
  • The Universal Exception. London, England: Continuum 2006.
  • Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. London: Verso 2012.


  • The Five Senses (Canadian, directed by Jeremy Podeswa, 1999)
  • Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989, written and directed by Steven Soderbergh).
  • The Loved One (American, 1965, directed by Tony Richardson, written by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood)
  • La Femme Nikita (French, 1990, directed by Luc Besson,)
  • The Piano is a (New Zealand, 1993, written and directed by Jane Campion)
  • (British-Canadian, David Cronenberg, 1996 [based upon J. G. Ballard’s 1973 novel])
  • Nymph()maniac (European, 2013, written and directed by Lars von Trier.
  • Sex and Lucia [Lucia y el sexo] (Spanish, 2001, directed by Julio Medem).
  • The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (scripted and presented by Slavoj Žižek and directed by Sophie Fiennes)
  • Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001).
  • Secretary (American, 2002, directed by Steven Shainberg, based on the short story “Bad Behavior” by Mary Gaitskill).

Reading Schedule:

Part One: Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of the Body: The Critique of Cartesian Dualism:

Week One:
  • Tuesday: Introduction to French phenomenology and its Poststructuralist’s Aftermath.
    • Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Basic Writings, Editor’s Introduction (1-33).
    • Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Basic Writings, Prospectus (33-43).
  • Wednesday Evening Movie: The Five Senses.
  • Thursday:
    • Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Basic Writings, The Body (63-126).
    • Merleau-Ponty: “The Body in its Sexual Being” Phenomenology of Perception [Handout]
    • Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Basic Writings, Being-for-Itself and Being-in-the-World: Chapter Three: Freedom (209-234).

Part Two: Merleau-Ponty’s Hermeneutics of the Flesh: Inter-Corporeality as Inside-Out:

Weak Two
  • Tuesday:
    • Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Basic Writings, The World as Perceived (126-145).
    • Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Basic Writings, The Algorithm and the Mystery of Language (234-247)
  • Wednesday Evening Movie: Sex, Lies, and Videotape
  • Thursday:
    • Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Basic Writings, The Intertwining–The Chiasm, from The Visible and Invisible (247-272)

Part Four: Lacan’s Neo-structuralist Psychoanalytic Challenge to Phenomenology and Hermeneutics: “Ain’t Nothing Natural about it!”

Week Three:
  • Tuesday:
    • The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance, Part One: Structure: Alienation and the Other (3-35)
  • Wednesday Evening Movie: The Loved One.
  • Thursday:
    • The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance, Part Two: The Lacanian Subject (35-83)
Week Four:
  • Tuesday:
    • The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance, Part Three: The Lacanian Object: Love, Desire, and Jouissance (83-129).
  • Wednesday Evening Movie: La Femme Nikita
  • Thursday:
    • The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance, Part Four: The Status of Psychanalytic Discourse (129-147).
    • Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism: “Objects, Objects Everywhere” [Handout]

Part Five: Kristeva’s Feminist Appropriation of Lacanian Psychoanalysis: The Symbolic and Semiotic:

Week Five:
  • Tuesday:
    • Keltner, Stacy K. Kristeva: Thresholds. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity Press, 2011.
      • Introduction [Handout]
      • “Kristeva’s Theory of Meaning and Subjectivity” [Handout]
      • “Kristeva’s Psychoanalytic – Abjection, Love, and Loss” [Handout]
  • Wednesday Evening Movie: The Piano
  • Thursday:
    • Keltner, Stacy K. Kristeva: Thresholds. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity Press, 2011.
      • Introduction [Handout]
      • “Kristeva’s Theory of Meaning and Subjectivity” [Handout]
      • “Kristeva’s Psychoanalytic–Abjection, Love, and Loss” [Handout]

Part Six: Laplanche’s Reinterpretation of Freud’s Seduction Hypothesis and the Radicalization of the Copernican Turn to Otherness: The Twisted Sociality of Human Desire (Begierde) and Drive (Trieb):

Week Six:
  • Tuesday:
    • Essays in Otherness, Editor’s Introduction (1-51)
  • Wednesday Evening Movie: Crash
  • Thursday:
    • Essays in Otherness, The Unfinished Copernican Revolution (52-84).
    • Essays in Otherness, The Drive and its Source-Object: its Fate in the Transference (117- 133).
Week Seven:
  • Tuesday:
    • Essays in Otherness, Implantation, Intromission (133-138).
    • Essays in Otherness, Interpretation between Determinism and Hermeneutics (138-166).
  • Wednesday Evening Movie: The Pervert’s Guide To Cinema or Secretary
  • Thursday:
    • Essays in Otherness, Implantation, Intromission (133-138) [Continued]
    • Essays in Otherness, Interpretation between Determinism and Hermeneutics (138-166) [Continued]
      • Supplementary Reading (Optional)
        • Ragland, Ellie. The Logic of Sexuation: From Aristotle to Lacan. Albany, NY State University of New York Press, 2004.
        • “’On the Significance of the Phallus’ (1958) According to Lacan”
        • Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism: “Objects, Objects Everywhere” [Handout]

Part Seven: Sexual Division: “There is no Sexual Rapport”

Weak Eight:
  • Tuesday:
    • What is Sex?: “It’s Getting Strange in Here . . . “
  • Wednesday Evening Movie: Nymph()maniac.
  • Thursday:
    • What is Sex?: “ . . . And Even Stranger out There”
Week Nine:
  • Tuesday:
    • What is Sex?: “Contradictions that Matter”
    • Dangerous Liaisons, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos [Handout]
  • Thursday:
    • What is Sex?: “Object-Disoriented Ontology”
    • Dangerous Liaisons, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos [Handout]
Week Ten:
  • Tuesday:
    • Review
  • Thursday:
    • Student Evaluations.
Finals Week