The following is an interview that took place over email in March 2021. LACKers Matthew Flisfeder and Russell Sbriglia asked the LACK Central Committee members, Hilary Neroni, Jennifer Friedlander, Henry Krips, and Todd McGowan, about their thoughts on the origins/formations of the LACK conference, its influences and approaches, and potential goals coming down the road for the LACK community.
Matthew Flisfeder: Can you tell us a bit about the initial formation of the conference? What was the original idea? What motivated the four of you to come together to organize the conference, and what were you hoping to build from it?
Hilary Neroni: We were sitting in a lounge area in a hotel. Some random city. Some random hotel. Some random conference. The details are not important. But it was the same experience as usual in that we all felt like the only people there doing the kind of work we do. It didn’t matter so much because we were thrilled to see each other. Jennifer and Henry are our close personal friends. In part, our friendship was formed through our theoretical bond, especially our engagement with psychoanalysis and other philosophical traditions. I’m pretty sure we were not the only ones to every time say things like, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a conference where everyone wanted to talk about what we want to talk about?” But one fateful night while our kids were running up and down the hallway and we were hiding in the lounge, one of us suggested that we actually create a conference. Frankly, that seemed too daunting, so, instead, we decided to begin by creating an organization within which we could stage small seminars. The idea of LACK was to create an organization that was about ideas and not about status or recognition. In fact, even doing this interview seems somewhat antithetical to the inherent philosophy of LACK, which is to not call attention to the organizers but to hold open a space where the ideas take center stage. We might have also wanted to figure out how we could see our friends every year, but it’s hard to eradicate all personal interest. I’ll let others jump in on this origin story.
Jennifer Friedlander: Thanks, Hilary, for recounting that moment! I recall the every-lounge-room in the every-conference-hotel (but I recall, quite specifically, the conference) all very vividly. Indeed, the initial vision was to create this opportunity to engage deeply and on a small scale with psychoanalytic thinking (without concern for drawing big names or big audiences.) Although LACK has become a much larger-scale event than we originally envisioned, we have tried to stay faithful to our founding philosophy to reject the status-oriented nature of most academic conference. For instance, as Hilary pointed out in her opening remarks at LACK iii, we refuse (to the occasional dismay of participants) the “3Bs” of conferences: book rooms, badges, and bios. The idea is that, if you are interested in a presenter’s work, strike up a conversation with them, introduce yourself, etc.
LACK has proven a strong suspicion that we had: that there are so many of us doing this kind of thinking, in a large range of disciplines, departments, institutions, which may not appear to be connected with Lacanian psychoanalysis. I have found it pretty moving to see people who have been working in this area somewhat privately, finally encountering other thinkers to share ideas with, and have a place to come together.
Henry Krips: OK – here’s my origin story. First there was a-void—a-void any large conferences with dinners, AGMs (Annual General Meetings), planning sessions, and too many psychoanalysts dressed in black t-shirts. Instead, just organize a space where a few academics interested in Lacan chat with each other once a year. But the demi-urge would not be denied and death (Tod) reined his deadly forms upon us (The Todes-Lied). I attempted to resist the siren song of the conference with its inevitable fall into the intervals of eating donuts, drinking from stainless steel coffee urns, and the lotus-land of plenary sessions, introducing speakers, and chairing panels. But I was outvoted by my three brothers and sisters (including my partner). I now think they were right—if Lacan is to be taken seriously as an academic pursuit, a career path even, rather than as a French infection, then the infra structure of the (larger) conference is necessary. What I still disagree with my brothers and sisters about (again I was outvoted) was the spelling of the name: Alas, I preferred “Lac,” which I still think was better, but this may be the Australian in me, who always prefers abbreviations that are never seen as lac(k)ing. (P.S. I wanted a year of living dangerously when the conference t-shirt has LAC printed on it, but it remains a dream rather than fantasy.)
Todd McGowan: Wow. Such a great job of setting the bar high. I know that there were many times that we discussed the possibility, but I also remember the actual time when the plot was hatched. I had lost my wallet and thus was in a complete panic. So the beginning of LACK is connected to a trauma for me. But when I found it (on the floor in the middle of the parking garage), Hilary, Jennifer, and Henry were together in Jennifer and Henry’s room waiting for me, already deep in conversation. Our boys were all playing together or, more likely, watching a movie together. Our collective sense was that we wanted a conference to go to that foregrounded psychoanalytic theory for its own sake and that would completely abjure any of the usual academic trappings. As Jennifer and Hilary say, we wanted to avoid the 3Bs of academic conferences—badges, book tables, and bios. I remember that there was a lot of (mis)quoting of Treasure of the Sierra Madre. We noted that previous attempts to found a psychoanalytic theory organization had started off with promise and then quickly died. The original APCS (Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society) formed by Slavoj [Žižek], Joan [Copjec], and others, along with Ken Reinhard’s attempt to form the American Lacanian Link (ALL). The key to enduring, we conjectured, would be not forming a coherent group in the first place but just a central committee that would keep the conference going and enforce the limits, without ever insisting on membership. But one of the founding ideas was that no one on the central committee could ever serve as a plenary speaker. We saw the central committee as the lowest rung in LACK. LACK would just go as long as it was viable, and then it would disappear. But it would be a group with no belonging, so it couldn’t be dissolved.
As Henry notes, there was considerable discussion about what the organization should be named. We tried for quite a while to come up with an acronym that involved Lacan. Something like ALT (Association of Lacanian Theorists) was considered and then quickly dismissed. After many failed attempts, we decided to abandon the idea of an acronym and just go with LACK, which seemed like it stood for something but actually stood for nothing, which we thought was perfect.
It is possible that this would have all come to nothing. Even though we had the idea and told it to friends, none of us had the funding at our universities—or, frankly, the organizing skill—to pull it off. When I was giving a talk at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Scott Krzych, who knew of the general idea, approached me with the possibility of having the LACK Conference there, with the university providing financial support for it. I asked everyone, and no one was against the idea.
MF: Thanks, everyone! There’s a lot to pick up on here, but I’m really interested in what Hilary and Jennifer are saying about the low-key aspect of the organization and the conference. Isn’t it a rite of passage, or something like that, to betray the foundational goals of the group? I think, because you are all such prominent figures in psychoanalytic cultural and media theory, film theory… I’m curious about why you think the group has grown larger than what you initially anticipated? Do you secretly play the role of the Master? Or maybe do you occupy the position of the analyst? Does the conference aim to defy the discourse of the university? Sorry to put it in such stereotypical Lacanian jargon. But, more or less, I’m curious to know what you think has made LACK such a relatively popular and/or growing phenomenon for those of us doing work on theory when it seems so very niche.
JF: Thank you, Matthew. Your questions deserve much more consideration, but for now, my very quick take on the unanticipated popularity of LACK: If anything, I might think of our roles as objets a (“the lowest rung,” as Todd’s put it, and perhaps the “obstacles” we insist upon—the banning of the 3Bs, the refusal to guarantee when/where/if the next LACK will be by the end of each conference, etc. function, too, in terms of this position?) For me wide-spread institutional anti-psychoanalytic sentiment has meant that so many of us do this kind of thinking/working in relative secret. In this sense, psychoanalysis itself appears to occupy a place of lack within the academy, but, as we know, nothing is more incessant than to circle the lack.
HK: I think my discursive position here is, if anything, that of the hysteric, although as a hysteric, of course, I leave it to the other to decide where if anywhere I fit. In any case, my position on these issues is totally re-lacksed (or perhaps relaxative?).
I do, however, admire the way in which our gang of four was totally taken aback when one of the lackers put up a Facebook page for LACK. Is this how the meeting of Soviets were taken aback by Lenin’s announcement that, despite the Soviets’ prognostication that it was too early for the revolution, the revolution had happened overnight? Our only virtue is that, unlike the Soviets, we did not walk out in protest… perhaps out of amazement?
HN: I appreciate both Jennifer’s and Henry’s analysis. To your question Matt, I have just the simple response: the reason someone comes to LACK the first time is because there are not many other conferences out there where you can present a paper that is psychoanalytic and meet other theorists interested in what you are interested in. We tend to see the same people at the other couple of conferences that exist out there. But maybe, or hopefully, the reason someone comes back to LACK is that we have created an environment in which people feel comfortable and supported. And by that, I mean that everyone is anxious to hear anyone’s paper and excited to talk to all the presenters about their ideas. It may sound corny, but we encourage people to reach out to others they don’t know, as Jennifer mentioned, and even invite them to lunch/dinner. Many people make dates with those coming to the conference to sit and talk about the ideas they are working on during lunch or in between panels because when else do we have the opportunity to really bounce our ideas off of people who can help us with our work?
Our desire was to create a shared feeling of putting ideas first instead of the usual professionalization of conferences. Of course, we aren’t blind to the real difference between those that have jobs, those that don’t, part time vs. full time, etc. And we were hoping that by emphasizing ideas over status everyone would feel they had access to the conversation. I personally go to LACK to learn. I love seeing as many papers as I can possibly watch in one day, and I’ve never done that at another conference. Often, I get a sense that large groups of us are working on similar ideas (the role of the Real, the role of enjoyment, how fantasy intersects with politics) and it’s buoying to see this shared conversation, and to see it as a shared conversation.
I like the idea of the conference being ephemeral. I also always feel that, though we four put it together often in collaboration with a generous host (such as the amazing Scott Krzych, Colorado College, and the wonderful Hugh Manon, Clark University), the actual conference is CREATED by all the people that attend. We can’t make people support each other or listen to each other. It’s all the conference participants who actually make that happen. LACK doesn’t exist without each attendee actively creating it.
TM: I agree with Jennifer. I don’t think that we are anything like analysts or masters. The whole point was to have a conference that operated without the typical academic structure because it would focus on psychoanalytic theory, which was outside the typical structure itself. My favorite part of it is something that I would avoid at any other conference: the discussions that arise spontaneously outside of the panels and in the evenings. This for me makes it worth it. And I like to think that this is what others also find valuable. My sense is that it’s very important to avoid any cult of personality, such as surrounded Lacan himself, so that thinking would be prized above else.
We were all taken by the idea that someone was judged by the argument they put forth rather than their publication history, fame, or pedigree. Even the plenaries would be just first among equals.
I would second another thing that Jennifer says. It seems to me extremely important that there was no guarantee about the next conference. Each one could be the last, just like each day for each of us.
JF: A brief addendum: Josef [Jennifer and Henry’s son] just came in now while Henry was (again) lamenting us not calling it LAC. Josef sided with the Name of the Father, and reproached me: “but isn’t the whole thing about LACan, and wouldn’t it be fitting if the word ‘lack’ lacked a letter?”
HN: Love it!
MF: The missing “K” as the signifier of the LAC, maybe? K for Krips (speaking of the Nom/non du père)?
HK: Nice point. I’m not sure whether it is better to be the missing letter which should be missing but isn’t, or that which by its presence creates a lack.
RS: I’d like to ask if the four of you could speak a little bit about the primary influences behind, as well as the scope of, LACK. As evidenced by your reflections on how it came to be named “LACK,” it’s quite clear that the organization is dedicated to Lacanian psychoanalytic theory—and this is no doubt the first thing that most people who know of LACK would say about it and associate it with. To quote from the LACK website: “LACK was formed in 2015 to bring together theorists interested in engaging psychoanalytic theory and its intersection with philosophy, politics and contemporary culture.” Even the LACK logo features a nod to that object which Lacan claimed was his most important contribution to psychoanalytic theory (or, more precisely, his only “invention” with regard to the Freudian field): the objet petit a, the object-cause of desire. And yet, the website also describes LACK as “an organization devoted to the promotion and development of thought in the tradition of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory and German Idealism.”
How should we understand the role that the German Idealist tradition plays with respect to the vision and outlook of LACK? How significant or precise a role does—or should—it truly play? Would you consider it an integral component of LACK, or is it more of a supplementary or complementary component? When I think of the two traditions invoked here—Lacanian psychoanalysis and German Idealism—my mind (not surprisingly!) immediately goes to the Ljubljana School and the “Hegel avec Lacan” approach made famous by Slavoj Žižek, Mladen Dolar, and Alenka Zupančič (an approach in which Kant plays nearly as large a role as Hegel himself), but perhaps there is some additional or alternative rationale for including German Idealism under the group’s banner?
TM: My sense of why we didn’t name Lacan directly in the organization name was that we wanted Lacan to be a starting point for theorizing but not an end point. The references to Lacan would be implicit rather than explicit, which is the primary reason why we decided to not have an acronym as the name but just LACK. The primary thing that we wanted to avoid, as I remember it, was becoming bogged down in arcane discussions of what the master really meant. The direction of the theory would point outward rather than inward, so that it didn’t become navel gazing. I suppose that this is why we also included German Idealism in the organization description. All of us see a link between psychoanalysis (at least Freud and Lacan) and German Idealism. Of course, Slavoj was important for making that evident, but we didn’t see this as just an organization devoted to Slavoj. In fact, there was some reluctance to have him come as a speaker for fear that participants would come to that iteration of the conference looking to touch the robes of the savoir rather than coming to engage intellectually and psychically with their comrades. It would simply be impossible for him to be first among equals, which is what we strive for with the plenary speakers due to the way people approach him. But at the same time, he did embody the values of the group because he scorns bios, badges, and book signings.
HK: And yet, of course, the signifier “lack” was chosen precisely for the reference to Lacan both by its sound and for its reference to Lacan’s core concept of lack. It is interesting to think why our coyness in mentioning Lacan more directly—perhaps a thumbing the nose at those who mention Lacan directly but with less willingness to follow through? A second note: I’m not sure that I had German Idealism in mind, although all of us, I think, wanted to take with us a commitment to using Freud in its Lacanian return to thinking the social, and thus rejecting what often seemed like a hesitancy among some groups of psychoanalytic practitioners in the U.S. to theorize with Lacan, while at the same time not simply doing Lacan studies.
TM: I think Henry’s point here is crucial. The one thing that we are prized—above fealty to a certain thinker or tradition—was bringing psychoanalysis to think the social order and the cultural and even the existential, while not doing social psychology. I take it that this is Lacan’s primary move relative to Freud.
I wonder if German Idealism wasn’t a response to papers that we received for the conference, since I’m not sure it was part of the original formulation of the organization.
JF: Thanks, Todd and Henry, for putting it so well. Yes—to echo them, for me, too, the invocation of German Idealism was largely about signaling that we were interested in work based in the humanistic tradition, rather than psychologically-based approaches. And, indeed, the relationship of psychoanalysis to the cultural/political realm has been at the forefront of most LACK papers.
RS: Todd’s point about German Idealism not being part of the original formulation of the organization tracks with my memory of the first LACK conference (maybe the first two conferences, actually). Even more notable than this minor detail, I think, is his suggestion that this was in response to the nature of the papers that the organization received. Having attended all of the conferences so far, it’s clear that, whether an effect of the influence of the Ljubljana School or not, German Idealism is also of interest to many of LACK’s speakers and attendees.
More interesting to me, though, is Jennifer’s suggestion that the inclusion of German Idealism in the organization’s “mission statement,” so to speak, serves to signal that LACK is committed to thinking psychoanalytic theory alongside the humanistic tradition (a suggestion which builds on Henry’s claim that LACK is committed to a psychoanalytic thinking or theorizing of the social order). I think one of the reasons why LACK has amassed such a loyal following so far is that though there are many of us out there interested in psychoanalytic theory, there is a significant feeling of alienation among us—especially within the various fields in which we work. On the one hand, as Henry’s comments suggest, there are many psychoanalytic practitioners for whom the use of psychoanalysis as a socio-cultural heuristic is anathema, so this tends to marginalize theoretical psychoanalysis in the clinical realm; on the other hand, there are many humanists—or, more precisely, humanities professors—for whom psychoanalytic theory is by and large passé (whether because the notion of “sexual difference,” to take just one Freudian concept as an example, has been supplanted by “gender,” or because many still erroneously view Lacan as a poststructuralist whose thinking is no longer relevant now that we’ve moved beyond the “linguistic turn” of the 70s and 80s), which tends to marginalize psychoanalytic theory within the academy.
Some of you (Hilary especially) have already noted the social component of the LACK conferences, but I wonder if you could all speak a bit more about this, because it seems to me that the social link fostered by the conference itself has been just as crucial to its continuance as the participants’ collective interest in thinking psychoanalysis and the social.
I realize that this is somewhat of a leading question, so I’d also be interested in hearing any thoughts you might have about the truly interdisciplinary nature of the conference (how it gathers—and unites—scholars from a number of disciplines that fall within what Jennifer has termed the “humanistic tradition,” and beyond). Does it surprise any of you just how many LACKers there are out there from many different fields, or has the conference just confirmed what you already suspected?
TM: Building on what Russ says, one of our reasons for starting LACK was to have a place where purely theoretical questions could have their day. This is one thing that the four of us wanted and dreamed of while at other conferences that, for whatever reason, didn’t really find the theoretical compelling on its own. But this means that we had to walk a fine line. We didn’t want simply to ponder how Lacan’s formulas of sexuation really work or explain the graph of desire, but we also didn’t want to spend the conference thinking about psychoanalytic practice or applied psychoanalysis. Our idea was, at least from my perspective, that even papers thinking about a cultural text would not be applying psychoanalysis to it. To do so would just be another form of thinking in terms of practice only. Instead, papers would use the cultural text as an occasion for advancing the theory in some way. I think all four of us strive for this in our different ways. Maybe Jennifer is the most successful at really doing it, but I hesitate to single one person out. I’m thinking of how both of her books embark on textual analyses and then find themselves in the heart of theoretical debates in the midst of the analyses, as if the one naturally flowed from the other. This would be, for me, an example of the privileging of theory over practice, even if the practice is not the psychoanalytic session but the act of interpretation. My feeling is that the best papers at LACK have done this—or have addressed theoretical questions straight on. In terms of that approach, two of my favorites were the kickoff talks by Molly Rothenberg and Sheldon George for the second and third iterations of the conference.
In terms of the response that we’ve received, every time I’ve been shocked by how many people who have wanted to come. In that sense, the conference has defied rather than confirmed my expectations. Since I’m surrounded by Foucauldians, I tend to assume that they are ubiquitous, and it’s nice to see that assumption undermined.
HK: Ha!! A comment I can jump on. Contra Todd (and Joan [Copjec]) I think the danger is not Foucauldians per se, but rather bad misreaders of Foucault, just as bad misreaders of Lacan are dangers (perhaps even more so). Todd and I have had this out before, and no doubt will again. I really appreciate the Foucault of History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, for his Lacanian privileging of pleasure over desire, and his hints about a body-politic, which is redolent of Lacan’s more elaborate traversal of fantasy/identifying with symptom, and, of course, I like Foucault’s vitriolic attack on identity politics. This is not to say that Foucault is above criticism for a Lacanian. On the contrary, Foucault lacks any sort of theory of the Real and a lot that goes along with it (e.g., a theory of sexuation). But it is a shame to throw the Foucauldian baby out with the dirty bathwater left by his misreaders.
JF: I know better (“or worse…”) than to get in the middle of the Todd vs. Henry Foucault debate, but a quick reply to the earlier part of Todd’s message: I appreciate so much that you have identified the effort in my work to, in a sense, apply a case to a theoretical problem/debate (rather than apply a theory to a case); I think that this is something we all do and something that I admire in all of your work. Robert Pfaller has been particularly eloquent in describing such a move as a fundamentally Freudian gesture.
TM: I actually think this is an important point to address. I would say that the difference of views on Foucault is really the only theoretical division among the central committee. It is, of course, an amicable division (and perhaps even a fecund one to some extent). But it’s meaningless in terms of our larger project. I do think that we all more or less see eye to eye on all other key theoretical questions, which was an important factor in making the beginning of the organization—and its continued life—possible. There is no factionalism among us because there is broad agreement. I think sometimes conflict and disagreement are held up as an intellectual ideal (by, say, Jacques Rancière), but the formation of LACK speaks to the productivity of agreement. It’s not as if we all follow a dogma but more that we all came to a point where we see certain key theoretical points as decisive.
HK: D’accord… and yes, Todd and my disagreement on the big F has never gone beyond loving banter (and Todd taking his glasses off in a seminar in order to answer “seriously” a question from me Re: Foucault). I also agree that we are eye to eye on the not-all other issues we’ve discussed, including German Idealism.
MF: What if we were to throw the Frankfurt School into the mix? I’m looking for an all out brawl here!
HK: Benjamin gets a yes. But, having said that, let me add that I have a tendency to make anything I find interesting into an anticipation of Lacan.
TM: I agree with Henry on Benjamin, but I think in some sense the group was constituted in an attempt to carve out a political psychoanalytic alternative to the Frankfurt School. I don’t think that there is any disagreement on this.
HN: I agree that Lacan and German Idealism was a signal toward focusing out rather than a conference looking solely at Lacanian structures and terminology, and that this was representative of what we saw arising amongst the papers. I think the description still suffices, but I even more see people turning back to Freud and Hegel. At the same time, there are people from many different disciplines at the conference, and we did expect this because we encountered it at other conferences. We certainly hoped it would be true at LACK. Additionally, we’ve had various concentrations that have arisen and taken root. Recently, a focus on psychoanalysis and race has led to several panels, books, and an edited collection. And this certainly was an area that needed more investigation in psychoanalytic cultural theory.
All of these moments when LACK participants would encourage and push each other’s work happened during the “socializing,” and often people commented that they wanted more of this. These requests led to us trying to make sure rooms were close and lunch was longer. Who knew these were things you had to ponder?! Thankfully, many participants have stepped up and filled out our own lack in this area and helped to create space for this fecund socializing.
MF: I just want to pick up on what Hilary was saying about topical focuses emerging, such as examinations of psychoanalysis and race—or, there is of course a wide-ranging literature on psychoanalysis and post-/colonialism. I think this is interesting and we see these projects emerging as responses to some of the criticism we all probably hear about psychoanalysis as Eurocentric, or as sexist, for instance. Do you think, as a community, LACK is helping to promote alternative perspectives on Freud, Lacan, and psychoanalysis more generally? Perspectives, perhaps, that we can take back into conversations and debates we have with colleagues and friends in our home fields or disciplines who might have several misgivings about what it is that psychoanalysis does?
I’m asking this, also, as a way of treating or reading the different conference themes, such as freedom, politics, and separation (I’m leaving out LACK by the Lake because it just seems too serene for controversy here).
How have you organized or thought about the themes of the conference? Are they in any way inspired by the historical moment or context?
JF: Yes—I like to think that, by showing what psychoanalysis offers to contemporary social/political/ethical questions, “LACK is helping to promote alternative perspectives on Freud, Lacan, and psychoanalysis more generally.” But perhaps even more so, I think that a lot of the psychoanalytic work shared at LACK offers alternate perspectives on issues of race, sexuality, identity, etc. Lacanian/psychoanalytic understandings of things like the universal, enjoyment, sexuation, and indeed, lack, alter the usual terrain from dominant thinking about problems of racism, hate, otherness, etc. Often at conferences, in a 15-minute paper in which you seek to offer a different take, it is not possible to do more than lay the groundwork to prepare for such departures from dominant frameworks, whereas LACK seems to provide a space in which presenters can dispense with the set-up and jump right into the intervention.
TM: One of the controlling ideas of the conference was to provide an alternative way of thinking about questions of oppression or injustice. We’ve always tried to encourage papers on sexism, racism, homophobia. As far as the conference themes go, however, each time we strove to find one that would allow everyone to submit something. We wanted them to be themes that weren’t really themes. So in that sense “LACK on the Lake” is just a continuation. At least that’s how I have always viewed the themes.
HN: It certainly was our hope that the conference as we imagined it would allow for people to dive into areas and have conversations about oppression in society. What can psychoanalysis tell us about the way that people experience and engage in racism? How does psychoanalysis open up ways to think about capitalism, class, and the way we live within these systems? And so on… Conversations that tried to dive into these issues could hopefully take hold and continue sometimes throughout the year, Oo at least live on in our individual work. One thing that I have found is that the people who attend LACK are usually quite prolific, are passionate about their work, and are usually working on something new. So it’s no surprise that most who attend bring work that is reacting to current anxieties, problems, cultural shifts, antagonisms and so on.
And just to underline Todd’s point, we often toyed with not having a theme and instead just saying: come present what you are working on. But it seemed better to at least have some very general topic. Again, people are often working on similar ideas, which makes creating panels quite easy.
MF: Thanks, everyone. I think we just have one final question.
We wanted to ask about what you envision for the future of LACK, but I feel like you’ve all already answered this in the sense that the conference and the group has been imagined as much more open ended and far less formal than an average professional academic association.
Regardless, we’re wondering if you still do think about planning or maintaining the group somehow in the future. Or, maybe a better, and more provocative question might be: any regrets?
TM: I try never to think about the future of LACK. My sense is that it will be over when none of us feels like doing it again. If someone else wants to take it over after we’ve done our time with it, I want to have no involvement with it at all. As far as I’m concerned (although I don’t know what others think), I don’t even want to be consulted in any way. But I don’t in any way feel possessive about the name. If someone likes the idea and wants to take it up, great for them.
I feel like the conference went better than I could have imagined. In that sense, I don’t have any regrets at all. I’d be curious if others do regret something, however.
HK: First, I want to thank our brothers for asking the questions. In the end, despite an initial playful distancing from the questions, they made me think about issues of endings, the future, the present, the past, and other middle-size issues, like institutions. My thoughts gathered around scenes from two films and a book (subsequently made into a not so good film).
First, the film Cabaret: the horrifying scene where the beautiful blonde Nazi kid gets up to sing “The Future belongs to Me” and everyone in the beer garden joins in the song. Here I am with Todd—the future belongs to no one, and it is a political crime (perhaps the arch political crime) to try to take it for oneself. It is, I think, hubris to consider that LACK is in any danger of committing this crime, but…
Second, the book The Tobacconist, about Freud, a young upper Austrian friend, and 1930s Nazi Austria. It handles beautifully the question of antisemitism (which, for a change, is treated in a way that does full justice to its ambiguity—especially its deep roots in the political questions of otherness—rather than treating it as a simple black and white issue of identity politics and discrimination). Sitting, as I am now, in (still rather anti-semitic) Vienna, I was very moved by it. The point that I was struck by in relation to our question, however, is the question of endings/future, in particular the question of who “survives.” Without introducing a spoiler, let me just say that in the book the survivor is an insignificant speck on the margins. In the case of LACK, I guess the equivalent would be that the survivors of LACK, who take it into the future, would be a group of Jungian psychoanalysts who happen to attend the last meeting of LACK, are drawn to the name (for the wrong reasons), and, backed by Bill Gates, decide to form a new “LACK” association.
Third, the incredible film The Father, which shows there are worse things than the future—enough said.
Having said all this, let me add two things. First, what I said before: I was wrong to oppose the formation of a “Big” LACK. It has a good role to play, (occasionally) helping to get jobs for people, and providing a community setting of sorts for Lacanians (for parler a la cantonade). Second, on a personal note: this is the second time I have been outvoted on a name for association. I was involved in founding and naming an association, which is now some sort of division within the National Communication Association, called “The American Association for Rhetoric of Science.” I desperately wanted this name for its acronym, but I was outvoted at the first general meeting, where it was changed, by nervous acclaim from the floor, to “American Association for Rhetoric of Science and Technology.” I am the ex-nominated—which, I guess brings me back to both The Father and The Tobaconist…
Thank you again Matthew and Russell…may we lack forever…
HN: In the middle of this global pandemic and political upheaval, the future seems all the more uncertain. I always felt the ephemeral nature of LACK was its secret glue. And yet, I do hope that one way or another there will be space for psychoanalytic thinking and exploration, which I think is needed more than ever. While we don’t have a plan for the future, we do have a plan for the immediate future and commitment to stage the next LACK conference, one way or another.
Thanks Matt and Russ for wanting to discuss LACK and for helping to create the conference with your own passion and work.
TM: I do have some final thoughts. In general, I’m delighted about what resulted from the attempt to start something theoretical and psychoanalytic in an era resistant to both those things. But I wonder if we could have or should have gone further to establish some institutional structure so that people would have had some place clearer to turn for psychoanalytic theory. One serious problem is that most of the professors involved with LACK are at institutions that do not grant Ph.D.’s. This is true for three of us on the central committee, and Henry is now retired. We tried to come up with a list of places where people who wanted to do a Ph.D. on psychoanalytic theory could go to do work, but this didn’t really develop as we hoped. One of the most frustrating things for me is to have great students who want to go to a doctorate program and basically have nowhere to go. There are a few exceptions—namely, Anna Kornbluh at UIC [University of Illinois at Chicago] and Frances Restuccia at BC [Boston College]—but these are few and far between. Publishing is also a difficulty. There are such few venues where one can take a theoretical work that focuses on psychoanalysis that people end up publishing at Palgrave and Routledge. These places are fine, but they typically put out works in unaffordable editions, which is a major downside.
I guess this qualifies as a regret that I said I didn’t have when asked about them. Curious to hear if others feel likewise.
MF: I’m also curious what others on the central committee think about this, too, but I think this is a useful point, Todd. Many who attend LACK are also coming from outside the U.S., some from as far as Australia and New Zealand, some as close as Canada, like myself. Speaking only on the Canadian side, we also suffer from similar limitations. My own institution has a very small graduate program. We only have one Arts M.A. in Cultural Studies, and psychoanalysis or German Idealism is less than an afterthought. Mari Ruti and Rebecca Comay are drawing figures at the University of Toronto; and I’d say Clint Burnham, too, at Simon Fraser University, draws students who want to study psychoanalysis. Svetlana Matviyenko, also now at SFU in the Communication Studies department, bases much of her work on Lacan. There are others, of course, working in these areas, but fewer with Ph.D. programs. I’ll add, too, that I’m very dismayed by the publishing models of Palgrave and Routledge (and others), but have been very lucky to be on the receiving end of very generous support from members of the LACK central committee, for instance, in a number of different ways. So I’ve even wondered if anyone has any interest in making the group more concrete than what was initially proposed. I suppose this was one of the initial reasons why Russ and I wanted to engage you all in discussion about LACK. I’ll also just add that I think LACK is doing something very different from other conferences and groups based on Lacan in the English-speaking parts of the world, and I still get the sense that there’s a desire to make this work more visible.
JF: Thank you, Matthew and Russell, for your thoughtful questions about LACK. They have certainly encouraged me to think more about LACKian potentialities. The issue of visibility that you mention in response to Todd’s last remark strikes me as a particularly important one. In my view, as I have indicated, one of the key contributions of LACK was precisely creating a space in which to make visible psychoanalytic/theoretical work that was being done by people across a wide disciplinary and geographic spectrum, largely out of sight from other thinkers with similar concerns/interests. But your question prompts me to suspect that perhaps from years of operating without a robust professional infrastructure, things like connecting to graduate studies programs, thesis supervisors, publishing venues, etc., have happened in rather informal and idiosyncratic ways. I hope that, through LACK, junior scholars can make connections that will help with these navigations, but it would be better if we could make these pathways more established and visible. I wonder, though, if this will happen as more LACKians infiltrate schools with PhD programs. I suppose this brings us back to (questions of) the future…