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The Inheritance of Potentiality. An Interview with Joan Copjec


Notes de la rédaction

The following interview was carried out by email between June 2013 and March 2014. It was decided upon subsequent to Joan Copjec’s participation in a symposium on Lacanian readings of literature and film in Besançon, University of Franche-Comté (CRIT; EA 3224).

Texte intégral

Jennifer MURRAY: In an interview with Mayer-Foulkes and Cerda-Rueda, you pointed out in that it is very difficult to know what impact one’s work has on others or on the field of study one is engaged in. I would like to begin by asking you two questions: firstly, about the origins of your own commitment to Freudian/Lacanian theory and, secondly, about the meaning you ascribe to that commitment. 1) In Read My Desire: Lacan against the Historicists (ix) you noted that at some point in the course of your academic career you began to “define [your] work not according to the object of [your] study, nor even as broadly theoretical, but, specifically, as Lacanian.” How did this progressive focus on Lacanian theory in your work come about?

Joan COPJEC: When I was doing my PhD in English literature, candidates were required to declare a minor field in addition to a literary specialty. I chose, rather arbitrarily, some film courses to fulfill the requirement but was almost immediately converted by them. My specialty was contemporary literature and film seemed – well – more contemporary. While I felt I had no recourse but to switch fields, I also felt it would be self-indulgent and, indeed, redundant to begin a second PhD after having spent so many years on the first one. Finally I found a graduate program – in the Slade School at University College, London – that taught filmmaking and theory. This program attracted me because it offered a completely different experience: a chance not only to study a new discipline but also acquire technical knowledge and live and study in Europe.

London in the late 70s was, as it turned out, a very propitious moment and place to be engaged in film studies. Although film courses were taught in universities occasionally, haphazardly, film was not generally considered an “art form” or discourse worthy of serious study at the time. In France, however, ground-breaking theoretical work was begun that would change the situation. Out of an interweaving of three separate discourses – Marxist theory, Saussurean linguistics, and Lacanian psychoanalysis – film theory was beginning to take shape as a new and exciting discipline. This theory leapt over the Channel to find a home at the Slade, the British film journal, Screen, and a few alternative film venues in London, such as the London Filmmakers’ Coop and The Other Cinema – well before it made its way across the ocean to the U.S.

It was only later I realized how fortuitous my decision to study in London had been; at the time I was simply fascinated with the entire battery of theory. Gradually the work of Lacan stood out as the most compelling of the lot and I started focusing on it. I finished a graduate degree at the Slade and then returned to the U.S. to pursue a PhD in Cinema Studies at New York University. So, there I was doing what I rejected earlier as redundant, but – because of the detour – it no longer was; it had opened up to me a completely different world. I was faced, however with the problem of supporting my “academic habit,” by making money while going to school. I found two jobs, which I held simultaneously, that were interesting and challenging at places where French theory had begun to have an impact: 1) as an editor of October, a journal of art/ theory/criticism/politics, which had a great deal of influence in the art world; and 2) as a program coordinator and teacher at The Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies, a kind of avant-garde architecture think tank that offered courses to students, lectures to the general public, exhibitions, and produced an architecture theory journal, Oppositions, and a newspaper, Skyline.

In the end I found myself writing a dissertation on film, teaching courses in architecture theory, writing and editing essays on photography and other arts all at the same time. What lent coherency to these disparate endeavors was psychoanalysis, which – because it is not only a field of study but a method, or technique, of investigation. I have a lot of respect for the notion of disciplines; I think art, architecture, photography, film, literature, and so on each has its own particular history and a kind of language with its own set of problems and concerns. I am leery of people who teach literature, for example, and try their hand at analyzing films periodically without spending much time studying the history or forms of film. Such efforts are usually disastrous. I certainly would not want to skip the step of educating myself about the historical and formal parameters of the object I am studying, but given this, I find that from my background in psychoanalysis with its singular arsenal of concepts – the unconscious, drive, fantasy, jouissance, repression, disavowal, foreclosure, and so on – I ask different kinds of questions, look for different sets of details or notice their absence than someone without a Freudian/Lacanian perspective. To give an old but canonical example: we used to point out that with the introduction of psychoanalysis into film theory the axis of investigation was shifted away from a focus on the narrative to the axis of the spectator-screen relation; the question became: How is the spectator “sutured” into the film? A shift of this order, of this magnitude is always at work when one approaches an object from the perspective of psychoanalysis.

MURRAY: Secondly, the introduction of your book Imagine There’s No Woman: Ethics and Sublimation, ends on a renewed statement of that conviction in a form that goes beyond an expression of personal choice to suggest that a Lacanian perspective involves a larger framework of values: “My arguments here are premised on the belief that psychoanalysis is the mother tongue of our modernity and that the important issues of our time are scarcely articulable outside the concepts it has forged” (10). Could you say more about this declaration that promises so much? What definition of the ‘mother tongue’ is to be understood here, and what are the aspects of our modernity that psychoanalytic concepts might allow us to engage with more productively?

COPJEC: With the expression “mother tongue” I mean to say that psychoanalysis is modernity’s native language, it is the very way we speak and think. I do not believe that there is anyone living today who has if not at least heard of Freud, does not know something somewhere about him, if only vaguely or distortedly. We know, for example, that Hollywood fell hard for Freud in the 40s; it studiously courted him, tried to lure him to L.A. to consult on movies; it made countless movies about psychiatrists and patients and tried to integrate phenomena such as dreams, hallucinations, psychotic break-downs into scenarios. It introduced distorted images to mimic disturbed psychic states at a time when clear, deep-focused images were the norm and color sequences when black and white was the standard. Producers, directors, and actors subscribed to psychoanalytic journals. One could argue that America’s hegemonic industry, its “dream machine,” was responsible for the dispersal of psychoanalysis throughout the world. But while the film industry might have speeded things up, I think the infiltration of psychoanalysis into the operations, conscious and not, of modernity goes further than this.

This is in fact the argument of Foucault: capitalism, modernity’s Uber-industry, is an incitement to speak psychoanalysis, all the better to instate the mechanisms of bio-power. While my observation regarding the infiltration of psychoanalysis is, to begin with, descriptive, Foucault’s is, of course, critical. He blames Freud in large part for paving the way for the rise of capitalism and the new bio-political regime of power. Lately, I have been trying to draw attention to the fact that just before Foucault published his influential argument, Lacan – in an interview on French television (Télévision) – made a contrary claim: that capitalism begins by opposing psychoanalysis and trying to get rid of its major discovery: surplus enjoyment, jouissance. In Lacan’s view the existence of psychoanalysis in modernity is fragile because it is threatened by this new order of power. Much of my current work is focused on salvaging sex and sexual difference (as they are understood by Freudian/Lacanian psychoanalysis) from the threat of extinction. This has lead me to try to rearticulate a robust notion of “group psychology” or “community” and to oppose what is called “gender theory,” a phenomenon that emerged in the 80s not only in the West but also in the Islamic world and that sets as its goal the elimination of sexual difference.

If I could put together the two parts of your question and my responses, I would say that one of the main tasks I’ve set myself is to demonstrate that psychoanalysis is not a regional discourse or private language spoken by a few initiates but a major new genre of critical thinking.

MURRAY: Your work tends to engage with various contemporary discourses keeping a converging point in focus: for example in The Object-Gaze: Shame, Hejab, Cinema,” you deal with the affect of shame. While the main object of analysis is Abbas Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), your paper goes from a reference to the 9/11 attack and to Eve Sedgwick’s account of her experience of shame upon seeing the empty space formerly occupied by the twin towers, to the way her interpretation of that affective experience influenced Queer identity theory. You then contest this interpretation on the basis of a Lacanian understanding of the very concept of shame. This all comes to bear on your reading of a key experience of one of the female characters in Kiarostami’s film. Does this bringing together of different cultural events and discourses have something to do with the notion of ‘group psychology’ that you are working on?

COPJEC: The hejab or modesty system always has to be mentioned in discussing Iranian cinema, since it affects profoundly what can be shown on screen. The reaction of the West in general to the forced “wearing of the veil” by women in Islamic countries is very problematic, however, since it seems to be intent, above all else, on celebrating the moral superiority of the West over that of the Islamic world. In this it seems to re-evoke (just as our choice of tortures of Abu Ghraib detainees did) the outmoded, totally bankrupt sociological distinction between the superiority of “guilt cultures” over “shame cultures.” The incidents at Abu Ghraib proved that that ill-founded distinction was still alive and thus in need of a thorough thrashing. I was happy to dole one out. The essay to which you refer has several agendas: to show why cultures cannot be divided on the basis of these two affects; to give an account of the way psychoanalysis defines these affects (which is quite different from the way this sociological division defines them); to use the psychoanalytic conception of shame to approach the question of the forced wearing of the veil from a different (hopefully less condescending but not uncritical) route. The affect of shame, which is searing, painful, is not – according to psychoanalysis – a feeling of being negatively judged by another but of being intimately attached to something you do not understand and which thus feels alien to you. One of the best relatively recent examples of it is drawn from Robert Antelme’s The Human Race in which there is a scene where a young student is arbitrarily picked out of a line by an S.S. officer and thus chosen for execution. The young boy responds by blushing. What elicits this telltale sign of shame; why this affective response from someone who is about to die? The answer is that the boy feels he has been chosen for a reason, that there is something about him that caused him to be selected; he cannot deny this thing in him, he accepts that it is an intimate part of who he is – but he does not know what it is. This feeling of being tethered to something one cannot assume as one’s own is worse than death. Shame, then, rather than mortal fear is the boy’s response.

It is significant that the boy is described as Italian; perhaps the boy thinks he was chosen for his ethnicity. But what does it mean, really, to be Italian? Hegel’s famous witticism is apt, “The secrets of the Egyptians are secret to the Egyptians.”

We treat members of other ethnicities, races, and so on as if they had secret knowledge about their culture but refused to disclose it to others. The films of Kiarostami seem to have this theme at their core: a man from Tehran wanders through the various parts of Iran, completely lost, as if he did not understand the culture, the people, the customs at all and yet he is unable to unstick himself from them.

Careless readers of Freud and the misinformed think psychoanalysis is the study of individuals. Freud himself was aware of this misreading and so when he wrote Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego he anticipated the criticisms that would be made against him: stick to what you know, individual psyches; do not trespass on the territory of groups by reapplying your concepts to a phenomenon alien to your science. Freud refused these criticisms before they were made by stating emphatically that psychoanalysis never conceived the individual as independent of a group. The difference between the individual and the group – he effectively said – falls within the individual. That is, there is something of the group in every individual, but that something cannot be consciously known by the individual. This something in the individual more than itself is “the group” or “some One,” something to which one belongs but in which one is not engulfed. For, though the group or the One is bigger than the individual, it figures as a part of the individual. This is a peculiar logic – the part is bigger than that which it is part of – but it is absolutely central to psychoanalysis, which places emphasis on the relations between individuals. A change in these relations alters the group as a whole; so, you see that the part, i.e. the relation, is on the same level as individuals, not above them."

MURRAY: You are particularly well-known for your work on sexual difference. To clarify what is at stake in the opposition between gender theory and Lacan’s theory of sexuation, let me return to this passage from your “Sex and the Euthanasia of Reason”:

Freud ... accuses Jung of evacuating the libido of all sexual content by associating it exclusively with cultural processes. It is this association that leads Jung to stress the essential plasticity or malleability of the libido: sex dances to a cultural tune. Freud argues, on the contrary, that sex is to be grasped not on the terrain of culture but on the terrain of the drives, which – despite the fact that they have no existence outside culture – are not cultural. They are, instead, the other of culture and, as such, are not susceptible to its manipulations. (209)

Is this a reasonable summary of what is at the heart of the dispute between the more recently developed concepts of gender and sexuation? How do these current perspectives/terms reshape that argument?

COPJEC: I can link my answer directly to my response to the previous question. Gender theory is part of the “cultural construction” movement of historicism. Historicism insists endlessly on speaking of the social or cultural or historical construction of the individual. It is as if the subject were a tabula rasa, a blank slate, on which society, culture, and history could imprint itself, trace itself in broad outline and fine detail. Psychoanalysis goes about things a different way. It speaks a lot about the inheritance of something like a culture or ethnicity (think of Moses and Monotheism, for example) and thinks the mechanisms of this inheritance other than as an imprinting. Inheritance, Freud says in The Ego and the Id, cannot take place solely through the ego (that is, it cannot take place more or less in the way cultural constructionists think it does), but must go through the id. What we inherit through the id, or as jouissance, is not something we have conscious access to and it does not mold us; we have to mold or express it. In his Encore seminar, Lacan seems to be recasting Freud’s argument in different terms when he defines jouissance as a kind of inheritance we can use, but not use up; something that can never be titled to us. By this he means that jouissance is not like property (or a property of an individual), but like common property in the Communist sense. It is not ours alone even if it is the most intimate part of who we are. What every individual inherits is not an identity or identifying property, but a potentiality, a capacity, which does not prescribe in advance what it is a potential for.

I was a bit taken aback by the quotation from “Sex and the Euthanasia of Reason,” since I did not remember writing those sentences long ago and I recently find myself again thinking about Freud’s quarrel with Jung. I pick up the word “culture” from Freud who accuses Jung of picking out only a few “cultural overtones” from his theory of sexuality. “Culture” means here something like “polite society,” where one does not use words such as “sex,” “sexuality.” Jung stripped psychoanalysis of sexuality by speaking of a kind of “energy” that could be deployed in various ways, one of which was sexual activity. Here, sexuality loses all is specificity and complexity to become a limited use of a general, indifferent energy at the subject’s conscious disposal. When I take over the use of the word “culture” from Freud, I use it more in the way empiricists did in the 18th century and closer to the way of the cultural or historicist constructionists; it becomes a domain of agreement, of harmony. Sexuality has nothing to do with harmony or with this notion of culture, which can be defined precisely as an attempt to resolve or deny the conflicts sexuality introduces. I often speak about sex as an “exotic force,” since it acts to split the subject, to push the subject away from itself; it is the enemy of harmony.

MURRAY: Could you explain a bit more fully what you mean by “What we inherit through the id, or as jouissance, is not something we have conscious access to and it does not mold us; we have to mold or express it”? If it does not mold us, how does it nonetheless affect the subject, and how do we express it? Isn’t gender theory’s view that gender is 'performatively produced' (Gender Trouble, 24) based on something close to this notion of molding or expressing? In other words, doesn’t the difference you set up between culturalist 'imprinting' and psychoanalytic ‘inheritance’ become slightly obscured by this phrasing?

COPJEC: Yes, I agree; my response risks obscuring the differences I want to draw. The reason for this is that I did not begin at the beginning by asking the fundamental question: what questions are gender theory and psychoanalysis trying to answer? It turns out that these questions are not the same for both and a lot follows from this. Gender theory asks: how can the subject escape the hetero-sexual normativity of the system into which she is originally inserted or interpellated? The question is one of identity; it is assumed that “the symbolic order,” or the social order, or culture is patriarchal and/or hetero-sexist and one enters it through the imperative to recognize oneself in one of the roles or identities it prescribes. The idea is that society or culture sets limits on the subject and the problem is how these limits can be overcome. The answer is found in the fact that the prescribed roles and identities cannot be imposed once and for all, but have to be repeatedly performed and thus instantiated by the subject herself. But since no role or identity can be repeated in the same way twice – that is, because exact repetition is an impossibility – difference, and thus subversion, sneaks in.

Lacan is not the only one to point out that this is just one kind of repetition and that it produces a banal difference: mere variation. To propose that repetition always fails is to found it on a principle of resemblance that restricts the difference produced. The difference between one instance and another is measureable, a matter of more or less similarity. The repetition of interest to psychoanalysis, the repetition of the drive, is not based on resemblance or failure, but on success: the drive is always satisfied by repetition. But drive does not repeat another term or instance, it repeats a difference, the minimal difference between the subject and herself.

It is simply not possible here to develop the implications of these two kinds of repetition, though I will say that this is precisely what I am trying to do in my own writing at the moment. An influential book on the “piety movements” in the Islamic world was published several years ago by Saba Mahmood, who relies heavily on the theory of performativity to make her arguments. The purpose of the book is to defend these movements against Western liberal criticisms. Ironically, Mahmood wants to make performativity the positive condition of the subject’s successful insertion into her own Islamic culture. There is here no criticism of the roles or identities imposed by this “other” culture, although there seems to be lots to criticize about what appear to me to be the extremely conservative roles the women participating in this movement are being led to adopt. I am trying to locate the blind spots in Mahmood’s argument through a discussion of the two forms of repetition.

Let me get back, however, to the main thread of my argument. The question of psychoanalysis concerns not identity but pleasure: how is it that the human psyche is organized by a principle of pleasure? That subjects are sexed (or “sexuated,” as Lacan puts it) is a fact connected to this principle of pleasure that rules our psychic lives, for better or worse. Sexuality is not limited to a role and it does not define the subject’s identity; it describes the structure of subjectivity as such. The subject comes into being through a dynamic process of selection of impressions and relations based on the defining principle of pleasure; we take some things in and exclude others and thus construct our world on the basis of this principle. At first it seemed to Freud that it was the ego that was responsible for the selection, for repression. He later discovered, however, that the ego could not be running the show completely; for a surplus or a priori pleasure that attaches itself to the ego is itself the major lever of repression. This a priori pleasure is the reserve of ego’s powers but ego does not know it, does not recognize itself in it. It is this that Lacan names jouissance; he calls it an “inheritance” of the subject, but not one that can be used up, it is “impersonal” and does not belong to the subject. That is, psychoanalysis realizes through this notion of jouissance or surplus pleasure that the subject belongs to something that precedes it, that is, an ancestry or culture, that gives the subject its potential without that potential’s being a potential for anything specific, without its being a potential for x, y, or z. That which precedes the subject is therefore essential to it, a potential and not simply a limit.

MURRAY: The word ‘potential’ that you use to characterize the inheritance of jouissance seems to suggest a positive perspective, or at least a hopeful one, regarding the formation of the subject. This brings to mind your work in Imagine on the concept of grace, which, as you framed it, “does not speak to our moral worth but to our moral capability” (154). Your reading of Kant defines grace as a subjective experience related to being “in the finite order of time” where grace “opens up a space in the temporal order itself” and is experienced as a jouissance that “infinitizes” our bodily being (157). In a different context, referring to Derrida, you expressed reservations about his work saying “There is a bad infinity operative in his work and it is very clearly and strongly at play; it goes hand-in-hand with an emphasis on failure” (“Interview”). How do these two views of ‘infinity’ relate to the question of sexed being?

COPJEC: The difference between bad infinity and the infinity that falls within the finite is basically a difference between a failure to reach a limit and a limit reached. Bad infinity is the monotonous infinity of the finite, which goes on and on without ever arriving anywhere; it is a matter of endless deferral, of putting off every arrival. Lacan invokes this notion in the Ethics seminar, for example, when he accuses capitalism of urging us to “Keep on working; as to desire, come back later.” Obviously, this “later” will never arrive and we will never be properly rewarded for our work. The profit that accrues to the capitalist is always in excess of what he pays for the worker’s labor potential. Desire is often thought to be underwritten by a bad infinity; one is never satisfied, whenever the object of desire is attained, we no longer want it but look for something else.

The other, actual infinity to which I refer is not the infinity of the finite, its unceasing aspect, but an infinity within the finite. Here we have not the pessimism associated with failing to attain some end, but a sort of “incentive bonus” attained only in existence that is conceived as finite. Freud spoke of an “incentive bonus” in his work on jokes. But we should also see this logic at work in the theory of drive, which does not arrive at an object but does attain satisfaction. This satisfaction results not from arriving at some preset goal (the drive is, as Freud says, Zielgehemmt, aim-inhibited), but from circling the difference that separates the subject from herself. This separation of the subject from herself, her “out-of-jointness,” (as Shakespeare was the first to describe it in Hamlet) is a function of time. The drive is a concept belonging to the order of finitude, of a temporal order, because it can only be thought once the world is no longer conceived, as it was classically, as ordered by an eternal, final cause. With modernity we ceased believing that there is a final cause, a principle of harmony, at work in the world. The Freudian concept of drive as precisely not instinct is an attempt to found a theory of human action in a temporal order, one from which a final cause is absent.

MURRAY: Looking to the future, what are, for you, the crucial questions for psychoanalytic cultural criticism in the years to come?

COPJEC: Ah, this is hard to say because I feel strongly that if psychoanalysis is going to survive it will be because it is able to speak in novel and compelling ways about the issues of our times – and I don’t know what these issues will be. At the moment, there are a number of issues in which theory in general is invested and I am happy to see that psychoanalytic thinkers are rising to the challenge and entering into the fray by putting psychoanalytic concepts to work. The Arab Spring, for example, is a phenomenon no one could have predicted. The theory of bio-politics, which was initiated – let us not forget— amidst an attack by Foucault on psychoanalysis in The History of Sexuality, is being taken up by some of us interested not just in saving psychoanalytic theory but in the way we understand the current retreat of the state, the emergence of neo-liberalism, and the preoccupation with life.

From the sciences, a number of influential books have mounted important challenges to psychoanalytic theory and offer alternative ways of thinking. I have in mind here Thomas Metzinger’s Being No One, which is about the emergence of the myth of the conscious self; Antonio Damasio’s Descartes’ Error, just one of the books in which the author develops the idea of an “affect brain.” Catherine Malabou’s The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage, is both a strong condemnation of psychoanalysis and, at the same time, a philosophically well-informed and uncommonly subtle reading of Freud in which the author turns to neurobiology and the concept of “neuroplasticity” to account for a kind of brain trauma to which she believes psychoanalysis is inadequate. These are just some of the theoretical developments to which we have to respond as psychoanalytic thinkers.

I never thought I would still have to be defending the concept of sexual difference at this point; I never could have guessed that something called gender theory would emerge to try to set aside the advances made in thinking sexuality. But: here we are. I just gave a paper in Berlin, where – it turns out – gender theory has made an incursion only recently. That theory is being greeted, therefore, even by psychoanalysts, as an important “new wave” of theory and many have jumped on the bandwagon. My intense criticisms of it came as a surprise to the audience. As it happens, I was quite content to respond in this way because it compelled me to discover new twists and turns in the arguments of Freud and Lacan, new reasons why it is important to hold onto the concept of sexual difference. I enjoyed rereading Freud’s essays on femininity and finding new reasons to admire his approach to the matter.

MURRAY: To finish as we started – on a personal note – you have just changed universities, moving from the University at Buffalo where you taught for twenty-two years, to Brown University. What promise does this change hold for you?

COPJEC: Brown is a much smaller university than Buffalo and so the faculty necessarily work more closely with each other across the disciplines. Brown has also historically been more focused on undergraduate than graduate education, although that is beginning to change. I am also teaching now in a department called “Modern Culture and Media.” This means that I have to design new courses, address a different audience of younger students who do not know much about psychoanalysis; I simply have to think differently about how I present psychoanalytic theory. I began this year by discussing bio-politics and then slowly folding in some psychoanalytic essays that allowed us to reframe the issues, to engage the debates about bio-politics from a different perspective. I think this worked well. The students did not feel that psychoanalysis was an old, retrograde theory but that it clarified many of the problems that seemed muddled in texts that had no recourse to psychoanalysis.

Brown also has several fine intellectual centers. The two that most suit my own interests are the Cogut Center for the Humanities and the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women. There will be plenty of opportunities to conduct research projects here that will highlight the theoretical and practical resources of psychoanalysis. The Pembroke Center, for example, has just decided to devote five year-long seminars to the subject of “War.” I was asked to propose a seminar and so chose the topic of “fatigue.” Soldiers’ uniforms are called, as you know, fatigues and “battle fatigue” was the vague name given to the psychological disorders resulting from the strain of fighting on the war-front. Fatigue rather than trauma. I began slowly to realize that if you slightly shift your perspective and focus on fatigue rather than trauma as an entry into psychoanalytic theory, its displacement of the notion of the body away from the strictly biology to the more complex psychoanalytic model that is dependent on the concept of drive, you can uncover many new ideas in the work of Freud. One of the most fascinating and far-reaching discussions of fatigue ever written appears in a book by Levinas called, Existence and Existents. Levinas began writing this text while he was imprisoned in a Nazi labor camp during the Second World War. What caught my attention right away were the resonances with Freud’s theory. Fatigue is thought by Levinas as part of a complex of bodily states – insomnia, exhaustion, sleep, being the others – that resist work. (Remember Lacan’s “Keep on working…) Gradually we see that Levinas is developing a new notion of the human body as invested in time and in the other, a temporal body that no individual subject can simply call “mine” because it is not subjectivizable by the subject. This notion of the body as invested in time sounds very psychoanalytic and the idea that the body can be defined as that which wants rather than needs sleep is absolutely consonant with what Freud and Lacan have to say about sleep. But to underline this, to show the way all three thinkers confirm this connection between sleep and the body, is not only to reopen the question of what a body is in psychoanalytic terms but also to revisit the purpose of dreams. For a while I was unable to convince myself that the psychoanalytic echoes I heard in Levinas were not merely imagined, but then I encountered a sentence in Seminar XI, in which Lacan stresses that the repetition of the drive is not designated by Freud by the German word Reproduzieren (reproduction), but rather by the word Wiederholung, or hauling back, with– Lacan adds, “all the connotations of something tiring, exhausting implied by that term. I knew then that Lacan heard these echoes as well. This is why he includes a rereading of the “Burning Child” dream in the seminar; this is a world in which a father and the older man he had put in place as a sentinel have both succumbed to fatigue. It is an all-sleeping, totally exhausted world. From here one can develop, not easily – no notion this complex is easy to explain – but surely, a notion of the finite body, a body invested not by the soul but in time. At any rate: this is my wager and I am very happy to have been given some time to work this problem out at the Pembroke Center.

One has to put oneself in new situations constantly in order to come up with new ideas. I look at my move to Brown in this light.

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Joan COPJEC, « The Inheritance of Potentiality. An Interview with Joan Copjec », E-rea [En ligne], 12.1 | 2014, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2014, consulté le 28 mars 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/erea.4102

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Brown Unversity

Joan Copjec is Professor of Modern Media and Culture at Brown University. Until recently she was the Director of the Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture at the University of Buffalo and executive editor of its Lacanian journal, Umbr(a). She is the author of Read My Desire: Lacan against the Historicists (1994); Imagine There's No Woman: Ethics and Sublimation (2002); and of the forthcoming Cloud: Between Paris and Tehran. She has also edited a number of books, including Jacques Lacan's Television (1990); Shades of Noir (1993); Supposing the Subject, (1994); Radical Evil (1996); and Giving Ground: The Politics of Propinquity (1999).

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